What to do with the girl who won’t quit?
The narrator of Eleanor Levine’s short story, Gravel, is manic, pleasing, intense, discomforting. She is the kind of character who is fun to read but not always fun to know. The story shows the exploded fragments of her confused feelings and thoughts – love, affection, sex, Jewish identity, dead parents, dead celebrities, Facebook, LinkedIn. It’s chaotic, it works.
Mother never wanted me to have a girlfriend, even a Jewish one. She would certainly have tolerated a shagitz, but not a shiksah. Too many Jews killed during World War II for her daughter to mount poontang. Like the Hasidim, my mother believed that we should have babies to make up for the six million. Mom was deeply offended when I said, “You have grand dogs,” though she’d regularly extend a “Good yontiff” to my Jack Russell.
She falls in love too fast. She remembers too much. She gets drunk and says and does things she regrets. She stalks people online, and she writes poetry.
Levine has captured well the frantic intensity of the obsessed. We can feel it – the energy embraces us. And it is exhausting. Those kinds of people are exhausting. Effort and potency emanates from their pores, but it is always misdirected potency, wasted effort. They try too hard in ways which don’t matter, and nobody (they think and they are right) ever appreciates them.
Gravel is disjointed, broken in time and space. Across paragraphs the story speeds across years, jobs, loves, geography. Again, exhausting. We don’t need to keep up, as such, because this story is about coming to terms with the frazzled mind-space of the narrator.
There’s a lot to like here. By the end, there’s a well built-up sense of who the narrator is. The externalities of their self are more fuzzy – the people are unclear. They don’t need to be well-drawn, for of course they would not be for the narrator. No, other people act as prisms through which to refract some aspect of their own identity. It’s confusing. It’s exhausting.
Is she a homosexual? I suppose. Bisexual, perhaps. Sexuality in its romantic, sensual, loving expression doesn’t come through. Pure physicality, neither. Instead, the narrator latches on to an individual and becomes obsessed. If they are female, so be it. Male, so be it. It isn’t about them as who-they-are, but how-I-am-feeling-toward-them. Sheila Gold – our narrator – is willing to be whatever is needed for her current-obsession and then, it seems, she can discard it, too.
All in all a good story, well told. I liked it. Robust criticism, oh, I am aware. But, you know what? At the end of the story I feel, well, exhausted. Imagine being Sheila Gold.
Gravel by Eleanor Levine is a short story published by Gravel Magazine. You can read the story online here – http://gravelmagazine.wixsite.com/gravel/eleanor-levine. Follow Brian on Twitter.