09 Feb / Girls of a Certain Age: Stories by Maria Adelmann [in Shelf Awareness]
Teens and young adult women populate the majority of Girls of a Certain Age, an intriguing first collection by Maria Adelmann. At least eight of these 13 stories were previously published as early as 2014, many in prestigious literary journals. As with many debuts, Girls proves uneven overall, but the standouts outnumber the few disappointments.
“Pets Are for Rich Kids” features two girls, one whose constant needing and wanting makes her “callous,” the other whose taken-for-granted easy comfort allows her to believe she’s generous. Inequitable friendship reappears again with an older cast in “Middlemen,” about a young woman whose wealthier roommate takes advantage of her emotionally and sexually. And illness looms in “The Lunatic Report,” about a 15-year-old hospital volunteer, and “First Aid,” in which cutting provides the only relief for a troubled teen.
Meanwhile, discarded women inhabit several convincing stories. In “Only the Good,” meaningless hook-ups leave a young woman pregnant, with only her brother for comfort. “The Replacements” follows an abused wife who kills her vicious husband’s dog. In “None of These Will Bring Disaster,” a newly unemployed young woman wonders why she’s so easy to neglect. And “Unattached” features an avid runner, still pining for her ex-boyfriend, who literally begins to float away until she’s saved (temporarily) by an older couple.
Adelmann saves the best for last with “The Wayside.” Here, a 17-year-old spends her summer before college working at the titular, historical Concord, Mass., home where Nathanial Hawthorne wrote some of his most famous works. Relationships with her divorced parents, a beloved but missing sibling, impatient friends, her first (manipulative) lover, older colleagues will all define her inevitable journey toward maturity.
Throughout Adelmann’s observant stories, what proves most affecting is her ability to create recognizable women and girls leading convincing, albeit challenging, daily lives. Adelmann writes with a sharp, detailed precision that can immediately reveal complex situations: for a young deaf girl, deciphering her mother’s words is to watch “her lips like two pieces of ribbon”; the act of cutting skin is to “slit a new gill … because they help me breathe”; the distinctive smell of pickle juice at lunch becomes the leitmotif for a young woman’s desperation to conform to the beauty standards that might get her seen on screen. With eyes wide open, Adelmann carefully observes and meticulously records what happens to these girls of a certain age, paying special attention to those too easily ignored, overlooked, and dismissed.
Shelf Talker: Throughout her intriguing 13-story debut collection, Maria Adelmann features recognizable women and girls leading convincing, albeit challenging, daily lives.