Aryn Kyle’s short story collection is a compilation of stories about girls and women who are struggling. The girls in Kyle’s stories are struggling with their identities and sense of self. They are women who are like people readers know in their own lives, and they are women that readers might even recognize in themselves.
The stories in Kyle’s short story collection illustrate the trials and tribulations of girlhood in the modern United States. The female protagonists present in her stories make mistakes and some of the poorest decisions possible. Some of these are characters are drowning in their own lives, and others whose actions should make them completely unsympathetic. Yet Kyle’s skillful portrayal of these women allows even the most irritating character to become empathetic, and Kyle’s ability to pull back the layers of each character’s actions and emotions makes each story a much more rich, satisfying experience.
In “Nine,” Kyle manages to capture the voice and behavior of Tess, a young girl struggling to cope with the abandonment of her by her mother. She acts out in small ways, telling lies and making up stories to compensate for her sadness. The story is both heartbreaking and funny, and the characters are some of the most vivid that I’ve recently read in short stories.
“Company of Strangers” follows Lilly, a young woman who is reconnected with her brother after their father’s death. Lilly is troubled, and when her brother leaves his two children in her care for a few hours, she takes them to a pirate-themed restaurant before bringing them back to the apartment of a waiter she meets for a one-night stand. Even as the reader recognizes how completely inappropriately she is behaving, Lilly is sympathetic; that is the power of Kyle’s writing.
In the last, eponymous story, the depressed narrator waits for her married boyfriend to visit her in her crappy apartment in a dying town. She squanders her days getting drunk and writing term papers for college students. It is an unlikely friendship with a troubled teenager in her building that begins to bring her out of her funk.
Kyle’s stories are fascinating and heartfelt. This is the rare kind of collection that begs to be read in a single sitting. Highly, highly recommended, for fans of short stories and fans of reading in general.
Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle. Scribner, 2010. Library copy.