"Black Cloud" by Juliet Escoria

This was one of those chance finds and from the description it looked very interesting to me, so I bought it. This is author Juliet Escoria’s debut book - a collection of 12 short stories, hard and gritty tales of addiction, dysfunction, mental illness, and self-destruction. I believe these stories fall into the genre known as “Alt-Lit” - whatever that means - but enough with the labels already. These are stories with something to say, a reflection on a segment of today’s generation raised in dysfunctional families, medicated since childhood, not being able to find peace of mind no matter how hard they try. Escoria’s prose is very sparse but also very poetic and at times some of these stories read like prose poems (especially Mental Illness On A Weekday).

 

The stories that stood out for me were Another Kind Of Magic - where the protagonist is working a coat check in a Lower East Side club and manages to sabotage her relationship by messing around with the club’s owner; The Sharpest Part Of Her - my favorite story in the collection - which recollects the protagonist’s dysfunctional upbringing, raised by a crack addicted mother who was once a fashion model; and Grunion Run, which chronicles a relationship but also has a somewhat magical realist tone to it. These are dark - very dark - stories, hard hitting and very well written. In some ways they remind me of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Kathy Acker and Helene Cixous (I’m not sure why but these stories bring her novel Angst to mind).

 

My only criticism of this collection is the similar sensibility to all these stories. Read together, there is a sameness to them - first person narrative, mentally and/or emotionally troubled, self-destructive protagonist - but they work well together and had they not been as well written as they were, I probably wouldn’t have made it through this (I read it all within two subway rides, unable to put it down). Somewhere in Escoria is a novel waiting to be written and if it’s anything like these stories, it is going to be one hell of a novel. If transgressive fiction is your thing, you won’t go wrong here. The main difference between this and other transgressive fiction is in its poetry. Definitely recommended.

Source: http://www.juliangallo66.blogspot.com