cover image Eggs for Young America

Eggs for Young America

Katherine L. Hester. University Press of New England, $19.95 (188pp) ISBN 978-0-87451-823-8

The young and already downtrodden characters featured in this powerful debut collection of eight stories, which won Bread Loaf's 1996 Bakeless Prize, are hovering on the brink of disaster, troubled by unhappy home lives or dead-end jobs or both. Hester's tales mix the mundane and the horrible, exposing the fear at the heart of her characters' everyday lives. ""Alarm"" trembles with the nervous energy of Tyler, a security system installer, Holly, his receptionist girlfriend and Mary Anne, the single mother who lives next door in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Austin, Tex. Existing from paycheck to paycheck, the three struggle for safety among drug dealers, derelicts and peeping toms--not to mention the mysterious creature scratching at Mary Anne's rotting floorboards. The same gothic atmosphere pervades ""Deadman's Float,"" in which Hester skillfully intercuts camping Girl Scouts' stories of imagined horrors--ghosts and serial killers on the loose--with the more tangible horror of one girl's troubled home. Part of what makes these stories so moving is the desire, shared by even the most traumatized characters, to rebuild their crumbled lives. In the title story, 15-year-old runaway Nadine has escaped her alcoholic mother and their gloomy suburban manse only to find herself living on the streets of Atlanta, drinking heavily and spending her nights with older men. Nadine is at once vibrant and ready to break--hence the egg metaphor of this story. A symbol of both rebirth and fragility, the egg is the perfect emblem for this collection of lost souls, who manage to be both desperate and full of hope. Hester explores the intricacies of their emotional lives with a sensitivity that borders on reverence. (Aug.) FYI: A native of Texas who now lives in Germany, Hester has been published in The O. Henry Awards: Prize Stories, 1994 and American Short Fiction. She also received a MacDowell Colony fellowship.