cover image A Girl Goes into the Forest

A Girl Goes into the Forest

Peg Alford Pursell. Dzanc, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-945814-87-7

This haunting collection of 78 tiny but potent stories from Pursell (Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow), most just a couple pages long, is organized into nine sections, all headed by epigraphs from Hans Christian Andersen’s bewitching “The Snow Queen.” Many of the stories revolve around the disintegrating relationships between mothers and their adolescent daughters. In “A Man with Horses,” a mother takes her daughter, who has just graduated from high school, on a vacation, only for the daughter to be taken away by her new, secret husband to his ranch in Chile. Other, mysterious stories distantly echo fairy tales, and clap past and present together to shocking effect. “Pond Water” observes with detached horror a woman who surprises herself by kissing a fish she is preparing for a competition, and then unceremoniously dumps him back in the pond as she remembers “something about a fairytale” read to her as a child by “a man whose breath smelled like stagnant water.” Pursell’s sharply condensed tales pack a bigger punch than the longer ones. Because the stories are so sharp and disturbing, and because they don’t fall into any overarching pattern, they are probably best consumed in small quantities. Readers beguiled by modern interpretations of old fairy tales will be pleased. (July)