By Jennifer S. Davis
Press 53, 2022
Cloth or Paper: price
Genre: Short Fiction
Reviewed by Abby McGinn
Jennifer S. Davis, originally from Alabama, serves as an associate professor of English at LSU and is the Director of the Creative Writing Program. She has previously published two other collections of short stories, winning the Iowa Award for Short Fiction for Her Kind of Want. Davis’s works have also appeared in The American Scholar, One Story, and The Paris Review.
From the opening line in We Were Angry, Davis tells readers that this collection of short stories contains no fairytales. There are no Mary Sues, and no stereotypical Southern gentlemen grace the pages of her work. There are no sentimental recollections of idealized childhoods or happy days drinking mint juleps on wrap-around porches. Instead, Davis gives us a bold, unapologetic look into the hardships of growing up in small-town Alabama.
The characters within her stories aren’t clear-cut heroes and villains. All of them are complex, conflicted. They are real people. From the angry teenage girls in We Were Angry, to the silently suffering Daniel in Orbital Debris. . . all of these characters are flawed but neither black nor white. They have varying degrees of light and dark within all of them. They may anger you, yet at the same time, your heart aches for them.
While We Were Angry contains no fairytales, it does contain one character archetype that’s usually found within the happily-ever-after genre: the damsel in distress. The young girls Davis includes in this work are entrapped not by a wicked villain but by a society that sets them up for failure. Even as they hope that some handsome prince from out of town will come and rescue them from joining the status quo, they acknowledge that it’s just a fantasy. They allow themselves to be misused and undervalued for the chance that, just for a moment, someone will consider them precious. In the first story, Davis writes, “The only danger we’d ever really feared in our town was an inability to leave it.”
Mandy, the only character within We Were Angry who could be considered by some as a princess, is “not like us,” as noted by the narrator. She’s everything her female classmates wish they were: a beautiful, smart girl who lived in a nice house by the lake with two loving parents. But Mandy struggles with her own inner demons. She knows she’s hated by her peers; after all, they prank her, gossip about her, and even go as far as stabbing the tires of her car with a hunting knife.
Yet for all of the tragedy, We Were Angry has glimpses of the best of human nature. Mandy’s mother is depicted as kind and affectionate. When tragedy strikes, the same teenage girls who are envious of Mandy show concern for her mother. In another story, an elderly woman who doesn’t particularly care for children shows compassion for a young boy, offering him shelter from a storm. Characters reflect on those they have loved deeply and lost. Davis writes about darkness, it’s true . . . but she also writes about hope, love, and tenderness. She accurately captures the worries, hardships, and fears that dwell in the heart of the Southern youth. We Were Angry drives readers to compassion, to care for those around them. And personally, while it was an emotional read, I felt understood and seen, and that itself is a great comfort.
Abby McGinn studied music and English with a concentration in creative writing at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. She now resides in Prattville and spends her free time writing, frequenting local coffee shops, and introducing her toddler to the joys of the library.