Dorothy Allison, “River of Names”

booksA woman who can’t forget her past struggles to live in the present.

(from The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories)

We were so many we were without number and, like tadpoles, if there was one less from time to time, who counted? My maternal great-grandmother had eleven daughters, seven sons; my grandmother, six sons, five daughters. Each one made at least six. Some made nine. Six times six, eleven times nine. They went on like multiplication tables.

I haven’t posted in a while, so I woke up this morning thinking I’d read a quick story and write a little something about it. Though this isn’t a particularly long story, it’s one woman’s life haunted by hundreds of others’. I had to pause every few moments to soak up the horror, e.g. “I told her: that one went insane–got her little brother with a tire iron; the three of them slit their arms, not the wrists but the bigger veins up near the elbow; she, now, she strangled the boy she was sleeping with and got sent away; that one drank lye and died laughing soundlessly.” Some of the stories are told in depth and others are recounted like the above, but it’s all pretty wretched stuff. It made me very appreciative of my own family.

I can’t find this story online, but here is some traumatized freshman’s assessment of it for class. It’s kind of wonderful. You should also listen to Dorothy Allison talking about dialogue over at Tin House.

I think I might try to read this collection straight through. Get ready.

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