Kim Henderson, The Kind of Girl
Publisher: Rose Metal Press
2013, 56 pages, paperback, $12
Every girl is a “kind” of girl: the ugly girl, the bad girl, the jealous girl, the defiant girl, the loyal girl, the nice girl, the strong girl, the lucky girl, but Kim Henderson’s girls, those populating these thirteen short-short stories, at once affirm and complicate these categorizations. The stories take these girls and give them, as Henderson writes, “some new adjectives.”
The opening piece, “A Brookside Park Sunburn,” places these girls on the verge of change:
That summer, we couldn’t find trouble. Oh, we looked. Kicking our legs in the body-heated water tinged with kid-urine, aching for something but we didn’t quite know what: someone else’s skin to stroke, or someone else’s skin to cloak ourselves in. Ours burned, but it was worth it to be touched, even if by the sun.
And the girls do change. The easy, ambiguous adolescent “we” in the early pieces who spent the summer by the pool and planted fake love notes to interfere with an adult relationship gives way to an individualized “I” in the later pieces—an “I” who chastises her teacher for bad behavior and begins to reckon with death—a loss more significant than the temporary, summertime absence of her mother. She marries, going out of her way to choose a man who is not like her father, and begins to define herself, to discern “the sort of girl [she wants] to be.”
As much as the stories comprising this chapbook are about these girls, they are also about time—those moments of life that one does not view as formative until many years later, looking back, retroactively interpreting events. Henderson’s stories also acknowledge this concept of time while looking forward:
Our mothers, ridiculous in hot pants and heels, skipped off on memories of better times with our fathers, and we found that you could feel sorry for yourself over things that hadn’t yet happened because, at thirteen, you knew some of what the future had stuck you with. We found that when it rained people like us wanted it to pour so we could catch our electric selves on fire and say, “man, that’s something.”
At only fifty-six pages, The Kind of Girl has remarkable scope. By the end of the collection, each separate narrator isn’t dealing so much with the summertime cares of hair turned green by pool chlorine, tanned skin, and absent mothers, but more significant concerns regarding earthquakes, wildfires, tornados, and becoming mothers themselves.
The pieces and their narrators are all individualized. They can (and do) stand on their own. The protagonists do not seamlessly overlap to be one woman; however, there is a familiarity in the women Henderson writes. These women are all women. These stories are all our stories.
Henderson’s prose is crisp and precise, as is requisite of short-short fiction. This collection, with its lovely limited-edition letterpress cover, is another fine addition to Rose Metal’s growing catalogue of short shorts. Pick one up.