Borrowed, Stolen

by Kelly McMasters ’05SOA
By Tupelo Hassman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 275 pages, $24
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The level of detail Hassman layers into her pages is astounding. She shows us the rotten mouths of the neighbors in the trailer park, the “hands paused from stringing garlands of silver beer tabs,” and the grimy fingernails of the boys in shop class. She conveys the lifesaving quality of “a quick pour and a friendly smile” while evoking the deadening rhythm of the successive first and fifteenth days of each month. The narrator’s sexual abuse splays across the page, the specifics hidden under thick black redacting stripes — one of several narrative experiments. Prayers become prose poems, the consequences of a drunk-driving fatality get worked out on the page as a math problem, and facts leak out via clippings from caseworker files.

The short-burst chapters conjure the effect of shotgun fire riddling a street sign, a relentless rat-tat-tat whose tempo is impossible to escape. The form reflects the anxiety that runs through this book, like Rory Dawn furiously clawing at her own mouth to keep secrets from spilling out, or flattening herself on the ground after spotting some kids hopping a fence nearby. Hassman draws this terror viscerally, making us understand what it is to never, ever feel safe — not in your own town, not in your own school, not in your own home, not in your own body, and certainly not wearing your favorite rainbow T-shirt in the bathroom with the Hardware Man when the lights go out.

But in the end, though we spend most of the book waiting for someone to save her (or, if you are like me, waiting for Mrs. Reddick to invite her over for a sandwich and show her some college pamphlets), Rory Dawn is safest by herself.

Kelly McMasters ’05SOA teaches the writing seminar More Than Memoir at the School of the Arts. Her book Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town is currently being made into a documentary film.

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