This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Danielle Evans
Reviewed by Kathleen Ambrogi

Danielle Evans is a young writer. I'm guessing 25, give or take. She's also African American. But I don't say this because I've met her or googled her. It's because her new short story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, speaks so honestly and so knowledgeably from those perspectives.

Evans' stories feature young women, and occasionally young men, in the classic settings of youth: high school, college, summer vacation, first jobs. The relationships these characters struggle with are familiar: determined mothers, absent fathers, lovers of all sorts, and the critically important peers—be they siblings, cousins, friends or enemies—who influence their thoughts and complicate their actions.

If you are a reader of a certain age, you may think you've been there. But Evans adds something you might have lacked when you traveled that road. She has a gift for seeing the big picture in the middle of a small struggle, and for adding extraordinary wisdom to her take on coming of age. These stories offer us a view through the wise old eyes of a talented young writer destined for great things.

Evans' decidedly contemporary take on race lacks the hopelessness of an older generation that's been beating its head against a wall for decades. These characters are clear on the special complications of being black in America, but that is only one hurdle they face and rarely the point. Take the story of a young black girl who's being cared for by a white family. Certainly race is an issue here, but the story turns out to be more about family in a larger sense: generations of misguided parenting, and two young girls who make terrible choices to get their parents' attention. Race becomes another way of talking about belonging.

Among my favorite stories are one about a brother and sister who spend Thanksgiving on a journey to forgiveness, and the one about college girls who sell their eggs to fertility clinics. And there's the story about the young man who—failing at military service—comes home and creates an imaginary life with a girlfriend, a daughter and even a history that are not his.

Best of all, Evans strikes home every time in examining youth as an insider as well as an observer:

I feel kind of sorry for her entire generation, because they've learned all the theatrical parts of sex, so they walk around pouting and posing like little baby porn stars, and all the clinical parts of sex, so they know when to demand penicillin, but not the basic mechanical process of actual pleasure, which everyone assumes someone else has covered.

And kudos to Evans on the title of her collection. It speaks for all of her plucky characters, young people who skate dangerously close to disaster in defiance of their elders, their society and the inequities of life. They are earning their stripes the hard way while preparing to take on the world. Not unlike the author herself, who is one step ahead and doing just fine.