cover image Weird Black Girls: Stories

Weird Black Girls: Stories

Elwin Cotman. Scribner, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-66801-885-9

Cotman (Dance on Saturday) utilizes magical conceits and pop culture references to probe America’s legacy of racism in this striking collection. In “The Switchin’ Tree,” set in the 1950s, a young Black boy named Jesse walks along the highway, eliciting racial slurs from white motorists. After the boy returns home, his drunken father says he’s going to beat Jesse for wandering off, then hears a voice from a tree, and tells the tree he’s trying to protect his son from the white lynch mobs he remembers from his own childhood. “Owen,” set in the late 1990s, also deals with corporal punishment but affects a quirky vibe. In it, a Black father drives to his ex-wife’s home to punish his “weird” 11-year-old son, Teddy, after learning from his ex that Teddy shoved his younger sister for teasing him about his adoration for a white pro wrestler who’d recently died in the ring. In the title story, the narrator chafes at his girlfriend’s confession that she decided to date him because he reminds her of Malik, a Black cast member of the Real World (“I know I have an afro, but I’m not some hippie”). The distinctive and troubled characters make these stories stand out. Cotman’s versatile talents are on full display. (Apr.)