Curing the Mean Girls: A Review of Curing Season

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:


  1. 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.

Can Objects have feelings?

Here’s my interview of British author David Musgrave, whose science fiction novel, Lambda, took me out of this world!

The book is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat story where even your toothbrush collects data on you. It also considers important questions about the meaning of being human and whether a near-future (a/k/a “now”) surveillance state impacts that meaning. By bringing programming languages and natural languages together, the book adds a meta layer to the question of whether objects can have sentience.

Click here, too, for my review of Lambda.

Review of “Folklorn” by Angela Mi Young Hur

Cover of Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur

I loved this book for many reasons. The interweaving of folktales with real and imaginary life made me question my vision of reality. The physics angle made me question my vision of reality. It’s well-plotted. The main characters are distinct, complex people I wanted to know about. The writing is fluid and rich in imagery. But what surprised me the most was the character of Oskar, a transnational, transracial adoptee who is originally from Korea but grew up in Sweden.
Adoptee characters in fiction and film usually follow a repetitive pattern. I’m a domestic adoptee, and I’ve thought a lot about Oedipus, Superman, Spiderman, and the zillions of other heroes who are separated from their parents, end up with substitute parents, go on a journey, challenge the status quo, and sometimes save the day. I challenge you, dear reader, to think of an archetypal hero who is not someone who has lost at least one parent.
Oskar, who is the possible love interest of Elsa (physicist, protagonist, and narrator) is the only transnational adoptee I can think of who is a supporting character in literature. In the 2021 adoptee community, the concept of “own voices” is often discussed, and I’m one of many who believes we adoptees should be the ones to tell our stories, not the adoptive or first parents who’ve been hogging the mic for so long. The author, Angela Hur, is not an adoptee, but in my view, she does justice to the complexity of losing biological connections and being uprooted to live with strangers. I’m interested to hear what transnational and transracial adoptees have to say about how well Hur explores the specific complexities of losing culture and being of a different race than adopters that Oskar lives with. Is Hur exploiting the TRA experience? No spoilers here, but interestingly, Oskar has written anti-adoption screeds by appropriating the stories of his fellow TRA friends — and they get pissed off.
So that’s a facet of the book that fascinates me, particularly, because of my connection to adoption, but that’s a single facet of a multi-faceted, literary, page-turning novel. I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone.