First: Is this a cool book cover, or what?
Second: Who could resist a book titled, So There!
And—good things come in threes—the stories inside create whole universe, strange, compelling and absolutely real.
Take the opening story, “If You Must Know,” which begins, “These are the early cicadas, four years ahead of schedule, chirping, shrilling, blistering through their skins. Thirteen years ago the night was electric with their noise, and one burrowed right into me—that little flab of skin beneath the arm socket. Thinking me a tree because I lay so still at the thought of what we’d just done beneath the water oak, Wallace and me. It broke through my skin and climbed deep within, planning to live there for its next seventeen years, sucking and sapping what it can from me. And so there must be something in people akin to the marrow of a tree’s sweet pulp, because my locust is alive and waiting.”
The girl, who’s become a young woman by the time the story begins, absolutely believes that the insect has been living in her body since that moment, “…a completely enveloped thing three quarters of an inch long and a half an inch wide, hard and slightly humming.” It’s a reminder of the time she spent with Wallace, something to hold on to since he left. She’s been “…skating along just mediocre” when he appears at the Kroger, where she works as a checkout clerk.
Of course, when he takes her arm she goes with him—and in no time at all they’re right back where they left off. “He was gripping one of my hips hard, letting his other hand climb up the front of my blouse, letting himself rumple the rayon and tug at the buttons, letting himself pull down one of the cups of my bra.
“’What do you want?’” she asks him, knowing, “Any boy’s more than likely to opt for the I’d like you to suck me silly interpretation, versus the I want you always and forever, you’re my girl and I want you with me something bad.”
He’s a journalist now, and what he wants is to write a story about her.
I’ll leave you to imagine that heartbreak that comes of it.
One way or another, every character in Nicole Louise Reid’s universe of stories is a victim of a yearning for tenderness, her own or someone else’s. It overwhelms them, not unlike the black swarm, the whirring of the cicadas in that first story overwhelm the natural world. It’s mirrored in the lush landscape and steamy heat of Louisiana.
For those of us who live in our heads more than in our bodies, these stories are a revelation. Oh! I thought. So that’s what it’s like to feel that way.
When I closed So There! and put it down, I knew more about life than I did before I opened it.
Good books do that.
Nicole Louise Reid is the author a novel In the Breeze of Passing Things, and two fiction chapbooks If You Must Know and Girls . Winner of the 2010 Dana Award in Short Fiction and Burnside Review Fiction Chapbook Competition, her stories have appeared in the Southern Review, Indiana Review, Meridian, Quarterly West, Other Voices, and elsewhere. A graduate of the M.F.A. Creative Writing Program of George Mason University, she now teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana, where she serves as director of the RopeWalk Reading Series, editor of RopeWalk Press, and fiction editor of Southern Indiana Review. She lives in Newburgh, Indiana.