The Send-Away Girl

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The aimless whelps who people Barbara Sutton’s stories delve into life and into the reader’s affection with some hard but honest observations. “What if we desire to no end?” is one character’s problem: “What if our only purpose as humans [is] to desire?” In another story, a boss and his secretary gaze from his seventh-floor office window at an urban snow-scape. The girl can only think that “it makes the world seem easy . . . like we could all get what we want.” In another story, an academic who justifies her rapid speech as a way to “squeeze more cruelty into one sentence,” refers to her “shrink-wrapped life,” a double-duty metaphor that describes both her ceaseless therapy and sense of confinement. And in another piece, a first date succeeds because the woman senses that “the lonely, wanting part of herself that was so assiduously present had connected with a similar payload, so that her emptiness was amplified, no longer acoustic.”

What alleviates and redeems such potential dourness is Sutton’s satisfying humor and sharp, metaphoric style. The first comment above about desire is followed by a Groucho Marx joke. The story about the academic concludes with a laugh and a rueful confession: “How alike we all are, us crazy chickens in this big-ass Western Civ henhouse.” Savvy references to pop culture old and new (Jerry Springer, Endora on Bewitched, the Captain and Tennille, the comedies of Preston Sturges) further enliven the writing. Scarcely a page goes by without an apt turn of phrase, a memorable image, a smart observation.

The stories in The Send-Away Girl (all successful except the first, which is too oblique and over-populated with extraneous characters) question our self-deceptive, passive lives. On a drive to a weekend campsite, a character identifies both the trip’s pretext (to help her friend enjoy nature) and its subtext (to forget about her life and boyfriend worries). The pretext for these stories is to entertain; their subtext is to make readers think. Sutton accomplishes both.