Have there always been mean girls, or was that an invention of the 1990’s? Based on my reading habits, I’d say the mean girls have been with us for centuries, from Becky Sharp (no relation!) to the Heathers in Daniel Waters’ film of the same name to Regina George in Tina Fey’s film, Mean Girls.
Kristine Langley Mahler’s essay collection, Curing Season: Artifacts offers an exhumation, an exorcism, and a bit of anodyne in response to questions of whether people can recover from toxic, obsessive friendships, and whether those of us who’ve felt out of place can find ourselves at home.
Forced to move with her parents from an idealized Oregon to the foreign country of the Deep South, Kristine’s journey through adolescence is complicated by the difficulty of breaking into an established brood of upper middle class, middle school girls. Worse, on visits back to Oregon, her old friends have changed. Some people don’t remember her, but she remembers her life, past and present, in shining and precise detail.
This skill (or inborn talent) ends up giving her the tools she needs to write these essays: a deep understanding of how details fit together to form meaning, of how artifacts reinforce memory and reality, of how relationships, and the stories we tell ourselves about them, both leave marks.
Praised for its masterful inventions in essay form, Curing Season is often as intriguing in its formatting as it is in its narrative. It’s written in such a diversity of forms, the figuring out of each essay’s pattern is as pleasurable as solving a puzzle. The essay “Creepsake” employs my favorite form of the collection: making up a word, and then writing narrative definitions of the word. So cool and inventive! Here’s an excerpt:
- a memento growing along a wall, like a vine
I left things behind, fetishes tied around the fences I wanted to infiltrate. I pushed my copy of The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1 under the dust ruffle of Heather’s bed after a sleepover . . . I thought my “misplaced” belongings would be magnets, inexorably pulling relationships back to me . . .
Available from the publisher, WVU Press and the usual suspects.