The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Lost Girls: Short Stories by Ellen Birkett Morris

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Review by Lara Lillibridge

 

Lost Girls is about missing girls, neglected girls, girls with missing mothers or fathers, girls who mature into women who lose their own children, or grow into obscurity as they age. The seventeen short stories, each between 3-16 pages long, are brief enough to read on a lunch break or during nap time, yet long enough to be rife with tension and often contain a haunting, mournful quality. The girls and women demand to be seen and remembered, and their stories remain long after the last page is closed. Lost Girls is a finalist for both the 2021 Clara Johnson Award for Literature and the Best Book Awards with AmericanBookFest.com.

Several of the stories are linked tangentially—we see the candy shoppe and proprietor from the view point of a few different characters for example, but the overall collection feels as if it could take place in Anywhere, USA. We can recognize these women in our own neighborhoods and family histories.

My favorite story was “Harvest” which centers around Abby, the owner of Goodie’s Candy store. She is an aging beauty, who covers her mirrors to avoid catching sight of her elderly face.  “For years, men stopped to change her flat tire and offered to carry her groceries. Now she was invisible unless she was standing behind the candy counter”  (24).

And while the tone of the story is mournful, it is still satisfying in its resolution.

Other favorites include “Heavy Metal,” which tells the story of Laura, a woman who lost her son and somehow must find a way back to herself. This theme is also explored in “Life After,” but the two women and two stories are different enough not to feel repetitive.

In contrast to the mostly adult protagonists, in “A Rumor of Fire” we meet a nameless 13-year-old narrator, and the tone is lighter. For example when Johnny selects Funions in the vending machine, our narrator explains that her friend Charmaine “…loved Funions, and I was pretty sure she thought this was a cosmic sign that Johnny was meant for her” (53).

But even though the action is viewed through the child’s vantage point, the world we see is complex, adult, and certainly not idealized. In fact, the whole collection is markedly non-sentimental, allowing the characters to be wounded and distraught yet always reaching for resolution.

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer, teacher and editor based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, The Antioch Review, The Notre Dame Review, and The South Carolina Review, among other journals. Her commentaries have been heard on public radio stations across the United States. She is a winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for Short Fiction and the recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. Morris holds an MFA from Queens University-Charlotte. (Bio courtesy the author’s website.)

Lost Girls: Short Stories by Ellen Birkett Morris
TouchPoint Press (Arkansas) 2020, 140 pages
$24.99 [Paper] ISBN: 978-1-663511-97-3


Lara Lillibridge is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama (Skyhorse, 2019), Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home (Skyhorse, 2018) and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cynren Press, 2019). Lillibridge is the Interviews Editor at Hippocampus Magazine and a mentor with AWP’s Writer to Writer program.

 

 

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