Hope in an ominous setting.

by capreviewroom

Nancy Lee’s aptly named short story collection Dead Girls takes us on a journey through eight interconnected stories, from a mother struggling to find her missing daughter, to a junkie nurse volunteering at a high school dance, all in the midst of a serial killer’s trail being the hot topic in the city of Vancouver. The stories deal with a variety of intense topics including sex, drugs, and poverty, hopelessness and hopefulness, all written in a very delicate fashion, though with enough attention to detail that we are enamored.  We want to unearth the untold stories of these individuals and their problems.

Lee’s interesting choice of characters, which include a sexualized thirteen year old girl in “Valentines” and a homeless woman taken in by a tattoo artist in “Rollie and Adele”, invite us to take a look past the characters surface, and explore what they really are as people, without judging them by the situations they find themselves in.  She presents us stories filled with tragedy and despair, however manages to inject the slightest bit of hopefulness, for both the characters and the city. The effectiveness of the author’s use of the second person in stories like “Dead Girls” gives us the opportunity to approach these stories from a completely unique perspective. We are the ones searching for our missing daughter, prowling the red-light district in hopes of finding someone with knowledge of her whereabouts. Lee wants to bring attention to this group of people, those without a voice, who are often easily ignored. Similarly, the opening story “Associated Press” tackles a love triangle, led by a nameless woman trying to overcome the absence of “that boy” with “this boy” which invites us to invest with the protagonist through its use of second person perspective. “Sally, in Parts” is written uniquely in the sense that it is told through chapters dedicated to different parts of the protagonist’s body; her eyes, lungs, hands, and breasts.  This structure greatly helps to propel the story of a fading relationship with her father as Sally matures sexually. The reoccurring appearance of the serial killer Coombs also works well as an incentive to keep us reading. At the end of the collections last story, “Sisters”, we are left to assume that Grace’s sister Nita has become one of his victims, thanks in part to the buildup in the previous seven stories.

Dead Girls works well on many levels including its simple, yet immersive and detailed writing style, but some readers may be turned off by the books rather grim subject matter. Lee challenges the readers to open their eyes to these issues by surrounding us with many characters who are homeless, prostitutes, or addicts. Her potency at presenting a realistic depiction of a city in peril, as well as laborious topics makes Dead Girls worth the short time it would take to read in its entirety.

– Justin B


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