Rain Taxi reviews Motel Girl

Rain Taxi Review of Books, Vol. 13 No.4, Winter 2008/2009:¬†Greg Sanders’s prose will make you wake up and smell the latte, the Rioja, or maybe the gourmet cat food (“Hearty Halibut”). It’s an especially rejuvenating discovery if your senses have been dulled by one too many short-story writers who just don’t seem interested in language, or whose flat vocabulary appears to be dumbed down in service of their “ordinary” characters. Sanders’s debut story collection Motel Girl inscribes its characters with rich inner lives and appealing texture.

Perhaps most refreshingly, the author isn’t afraid of linguistic precision. We find ladybugs “lifting their spotted elytra and unfurling their membranous wings and flying into walls like tiny, drunken biplanes.” Depending on the cut of the narrator, Sanders can move easily from sarcastic commentary to the clean lyricism of “the hill wept where springs broke through the rocky facade, marking their paths with algae and throwing tiny clouds of silt into the clear creek, like smoke.” Like so many New York City writers, he too often resorts to the shorthand of landmarks and neighborhood names rather than describing, but when he does evoke those city settings, he gets it right–like the East Village “tenements whose fire escapes were once festooned with hand wrung garments drying in the sun instead of chrysanthemums, cat grass and bonsai gardens.” A good ear for dialogue and a gift for canny metaphor add glitter and gleam.

Some stories in Motel Girl delve into speculative terrain: a tiny, tormenting imp narrates “Mr. Hallucinosis” and a crumbling doppelganger for the Guggenheim Museum has its own sci-fi properties in “The Gallery.” Most of the stories visit the fantasies and fantastical oddities and intersections of human life. In “Garage Door,” a man steals said door from his childhood home, hoping to find comfort or a touchstone by uncovering the hippy-dippy artwork of his youthful hand. Many revolve around shifting romantic and sexual relationships–sweetly wistful, mired in domestic quicksand, or tinged with violence or despair. In the thought-provoking title story, sexual daydreams lead to violence as the male narrator’s lazy, casually degrading appraisal of a teenage girl is turned against him.

Sanders sharply renders characters, from actuaries to Frisbee-tossing college women, whose inner lives chafe against their outward behavior. Whether dramatic or meditative, these stories are deft, enigmatic lyrics that pivot on an image or insight. Tired of a diet of addiction memoirs? Curl up with this collection “with soy milk but almost no foam” to let the literary senses revive.

–Alicia L. Conroy

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