BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS by Elissa Schappell

Book Quote:

“I was suddenly crazy about collecting the hands of old mannequins, and vintage etiquette books, like the 1963 edition of  Blueprints for Building Better Girls! Ray and I’d take turns reading it aloud to each other. It was hilarious how clueless these women, teetering in hells, on the cusp of the sexual revolution, were.””

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (OCT 11, 2011)

Poor Holden Caulfield. In Catcher in the Rye, he muses, “Girls. You never know what they’re going to think.” How right he was! In Elissa Schappell’s new short story collection, the old blueprints for Appropriate Female Behavior — the name of a vintage etiquette manual, 1963 edition — have all been tossed away. And now the girls and women are forced to muddle through with the new rules: Be yourself but also be what your boyfriend, parents, and girlfriends want you to be as well.

These women are survivors, some only barely, armed with caustic humor to withstand the toughest stuff that life can throw their way. In “A Dog Story,” a couple that has long tried to have a baby discover, in a routine examination, that the technician cannot locate the heartbeat. “My husband asked her to keep looking,” the wife says, “as if the baby were playing Marco Polo and had swum behind a kidney.”

In another story called “Elephant,” two women who mouth all the right clichés about how “motherhood matters,” finally get real with each other. “She was crying the way mothers learn to do. Her body betrayed nothing. There was no wiping her eyes, or heaving shoulders, no sound at all.”

And then there’s “Joy of Cooking” – with all its anti-feminist connotations. An anorexic daughter, who believes she’s in love for the first time, calls her mother in a panic, cajoling her to walk her through the steps to roasting a chicken for her boyfriend. The story veers from what, at first, seems like a traditional coming-of-age rite of passage – the passing down of menus from any mother to any daughter — to a dark tale of manipulation, guilt, lack of gratitude, and hidden angers.

Each of the stories tackles a certain female archetype: the slut, the victim, the exhausted new mother, the party girl, and the seemingly infertile woman. At first, the reader settles in, secure and comfortable that she knows where the story is heading – after all, it’s been told many times before – but wait! There’s something a little “off” about each portrayal. Take Heather school slut, for example, who is involved with a newly trimmed down, former “fat boy.” Just as she begins to develop feelings, there is a subtle betrayal and she bites back, aiming to do the utmost emotional damage – and succeeding.

We meet Heather again, in the last story, my personal favorite, “I’m only Going To Tell You This Once.” Now a mother, she must confront the reality of her coveted son becoming involved with a young woman Candy, who reminds Heather all too well of herself. In fact, a number of characters are woven into other stories: Charlotte, a girl who left girlhood after being raped, is off stage but very central to another story, where her friend Bender – a self-destructive party girl – is left to deal with the effects of what happened to Charlotte. And we find that Paige, the young mother in “Elephant,” is the sister to the anorexic girl in “Joy of Cooking.”

This is a fine collection of eight stories for mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and for those who love them. As Heather says in the final story, “…there is no such thing as just a girl.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (September 6, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Elissa Schappell
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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October 11, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Humorous, Short Stories

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