Lisa Shea’s narrator in HULA offers a compelling glimpse into the survival instincts of children subjected to extreme family dysfunction and the ways they internalize their fears even as they control them. A preadolescent girl whose body is only beginning the transition to adolescence which has engulfed her older sister, she desperately seeks to hold on to the central relationships of her childhood—one with a beloved dog, Mitelin, and the other with her bullying sister—just as the pressures of female sexual maturation are moving them inexorably apart. The adult world around her is equally fluid and far more threatening, for her father is a World War II veteran still suffering from a head wound that has left a metal plate in his skull and subjects him to periodical hospitalization as well as routine eruptions into derangement and violence. Their social marginalization is evinced by the wasteland landscape where they live, but the children imaginatively transform its ditches and junked cars into a playground where games assume a ritual power to protect them from the incoherences of their daily lives.
The patriarchal tyranny under which the household operates finds no counterforce in the children’s mother, whose chronic passivity before her husband’s outbursts make the permanence of their escape at the end of the novel highly doubtful. It is the narrator’s older sister who poses the biggest challenge to his hegemony through her insistent sexual...
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