The Pretty Girl: Novella and Stories

Debra Spark. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (330p) ISBN 978-1-935536-18-5
Spark's imaginative collection of stories (after the novel Good for the Jews) offers quirky surprises at every turn, as ordinary characters transcend their mundane lives. In the titular novella, "The Pretty Girl," Midwesterner Andrea feels a special bond to her Great Aunt Rose and a painting, hanging in her aunt's Spartan New York apartment, of a "laughing, young woman with two raspberry-colored gloves," who seemed to say to her beholder, "Oh, you silly. Go away." Like Spark's other characters, Andrea is charmingly plain, making her fascination with the alluring painting (which Andrea calls "The Pretty Girl") and her reticent aunt an engaging narrative force. In the wake of Rose's death, Andrea discovers the source of the painting, and the story of a great love and its surprising consequences come to light. In "Conservation," a young man destined for stardom at a news network returns home years later as a disturbing enigma in dress and attitude, unsettling the tranquility of former friends. And in the surreal "A Wedding Story," socially inept 20-something Rachel Rubinstein finds a tiny, sagacious rabbi in an old chocolate egg discovered among her deceased grandmother's effects—"‘Shalom,' he called, half in warning, so she wouldn't bite further." The numerous shifting realities and transformations in these stories might devolve in the hands of a lesser writer, but Spark's controlled craft keeps the narrative tight and the pages turning. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
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