Stop That Girl: A Novel in Stories

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9781400062249: Stop That Girl: A Novel in Stories

From the first story of Elizabeth McKenzie’s beguiling debut collection, we are drawn into the offbeat worldview of sharp-eyed, intrepid Ann Ransom. Stop That Girl chronicles Ann’s colorful coming-of-age travails, from her childhood in a disjointed family through her tender adolescence and beyond.

In the captivating title story, our eight-year-old heroine is sent by her pregnant mother on a whirlwind jaunt to Europe with her iconoclast grandmother– known even to her family as Dr. Frost–and comes home to find her family completely reconfigured. In “SOS,” Dr. Frost returns to haunt Ann in college, her visit colliding with a famous poet’s appearance on campus. “We Know Where We Are, But Not Why” is set during a summer at the Grand Canyon and contrasts Ann’s angst-ridden yearning for a philosophical schoolmate back home to her mother’s happier pursuits of a lively Australian activist.

Along the way, Ann discovers the absurdities that lurk around every corner of a young woman’s life, by way of oafish neighbors, overzealous boyfriends, prurient vegetable salesmen, and sour landlords.

In these keenly funny, highly original stories, Ann and the people around her are forced to reassess their complex relationships and, along the way, find happiness on the brink of calamity. Stop That Girl is a brilliant examination of the exigencies of love and the fragile fabric of family, and heralds the emergence of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

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Review:

Elizabeth McKenzie's Stop That Girl is a series of chronological stories that, taken together, uncover the life story of Ann Ransom, a native Californian who moves from childhood to adulthood with poise, intelligence, and humor. When we first meet Ann in the collection's title story, she is a spunky eight year old living with her mom in Long Beach. Featured characters include Ann's mom, her grandmother Dr. Frost, her sister Kathy, and three or four of her romantic interests. The state of California itself serves as an important supporting character, helping to keep Ann rooted in time and space as she moves through each chapter of her life.

While each story is unique in its own right, McKenzie's lyrical style makes it easy to string each episode together to form the consistent thread of Ann's life. In one of the early stories, ten-year-old Ann attends a neighborhood party on her own, apologizing to the host for her parents's absence while attempting to fulfill the family's social obligations with the grace of someone well beyond her years. ("I make it my business to look as enterprising ad possible, a team player, someone you can count on, someone who never lets you down...") As she gets older, Ann continues to play the role of "normal one" in a family of eccentric personalities, while simultaneously attempting to forge her own identity as a young woman. In one climatic story, Ann's grandmother pays her a visit at UC Santa Cruz on the same day as a monumental appearance by Allen Ginsberg. What follows is a car chase that culminates in a showdown between Ann, her boyfriend, and her grandmother that perfectly illustrates the push-pull dynamic which seems to define Ann's life.

For Ann, each step forward brings with it a reminder of a past that she doesn't necessarily want to forget. It is this haunting inability to escape her past, to in fact embrace her past in order to move on, that make Ann such an endearing character and her creator such a gifted storyteller. --Gisele Toueg

About the Author:

Elizabeth McKenzie's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Pushcart Prize XXV, Other Voices, Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, and ZYZZYVA . Her stories have been performed at Symphony Space in New York and Stories on Stage in Chicago, and recorded for NPR's "Selected Shorts." A former staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly, she lives in Santa Cruz, California.

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