I don’t really read short story collections that often. For some reason, I prefer my dose of short stories to be less concentrated and more diverse than reading a collection all the way through. The only strong and consistent exceptions to this preference are the collections of David Foster Wallace. Oblivion especially. But I loved Blueprints For Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell.
I find it difficult to like a collection and I rarely finish one and like it generally. There will always be standout stories, of course, but at the end the parts don’t always make up a happy whole, at least for me. Schappell’s stories though, left me feeling whole and happy. There was an emotional “in touchness” in her writing, an almost tenderness that was utterly unique and feminine and that affected me deeply. The stories were linked, with recurring and referred to characters, and this brought a human complexity to the collection and within each story that made them sing, and made each feel different and unique while being connected to grander entity.
Most importantly, I felt that Schappell just had a wonderful ear. In the first few stories especially, she wields an authoritarian power over her characters, an authoritarianism that guides their actions, the story, and even her reader’s thoughts. The guiding is alternatingly gentle and stern, like she’s in the process of loving someone who frustrates her. Her stories aren’t her children exactly, but they might be her sisters.