By Holly Goddard Jones
368 pages; Harper Perennial
Roma, a down-on-its-luck town in Kentucky, is the setting for Holly Goddard Jones's heart-wrenching debut, Girl Trouble . The eight stories collected here poignantly dissect a group of trapped people—mothers, lovers, students, dads—all doing the best they can. Theirs is the smallest of ponds, stretching as far as Western Kentucky University for those with good grades and to the factory down the street for those without. While the stories glow with intelligent empathy, Jones is never sentimental. All of her characters are damaged—from Libby, the lonely divorcée in "Retrospective," who is haunted by a violent attack early in her marriage, to the Hoffmans in "Theory of Realty," whose child has drowned in four inches of water—but, through Jones's sure telling, we understand the how and why of their lives and catch glimpses of the dreams that sustain their days. Even Simon, the loner turned killer in "Proof of God," is never less than human, with a steady conscience beating beneath his cowardice. The beauty of these stories (and they are exhilarating) stems from how deeply we're pulled into this complex world, nudged to recognize the thin line between missed opportunity and despair, inarticulate love and loss.
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