What do business professors say? Location, location, location. A good entrepreneur is nothing without a good location in which his/her business will thrive. I like to think that it’s the same for writing novels. A good writer is nothing without a good setting in which his/her novel can thrive. While I was reading it, I could hear Hassman’s professors at Colmbia’s MFA program saying to her, “Location, location, location.” Such could never be so true as it is for Tupelo Hassman’s debut novel Girlchild, compelling in its vivid portrayal of a poverty-ridden desert community. You can feel the dust in your mouth in every chapter.
“Just north of Reno and just south of nowhere is a town full of trailers and the front doors of the dirtiest ones open onto the Calle,” writes Hassman in the third chapter of Girlchild. The Calle acts as the anchor of Girlchild; though the characters are strong, Girlchild wouldn’t add up to much without the evocative setting of the Calle.
The novel centers on Rory Dawn Hendrix, the novel’s preteen protagonist, who is raped by her young mother’s boyfriend. Rory calls this boyfriend “The Hardware Man.” The rape is an awful moment, shocking and disturbing even in its predictability. The psychological aftereffects of the rape are explored throughout the rest of the novel. “You’ll look away from your own face in the mirror,” says Rory, “pull the chain twice to hide from yourself in the dark, and when it’s all over you won’t fucking say anything. You won’t fucking say anything to anyone ever.”
Hassman’s writing is adventurous, taking risks in its distinctive style, full of blunt horror. Written in short vignettes, its brevity makes it easily digestible despite its heaviness. Rory’s voice is a strange one: precocious for a preteen girl, but still childlike at times. She’s obsessed with the Girl Scout handbook, a rather trite symbol on Hassman’s part that stands for the life of order and morality that Rory will never have. It’s difficult, though, to write about such a heavy subject matter in a child’s voice, and Hassman tackles it admirably.
Don’t read Girlchild if you’re looking for a sunny pick-me-up. Girlchild is to be read with caution. Its biting words might snap up at you from the pages. But if you’re looking for that kind of bite, Girlchild is indeed the book to read.
Time taken? Girlchild is 271 pages, but it’s composed of short chapters that never exceed six pages. Sometimes they’re only a paragraph long. It’s a pretty slim volume; if a professor were to assign it, I think he/she would give the class two classes to finish it.
Worth reading? This book is hot in the literary world right now. As a graduate of the MFA program at Columbia, Hassman’s novel was an anticipated one that critics ended up praising. That being said, I started it skeptical. I didn’t really want to like it. But I did! Hassman definitely has talent, and it was a lively debut to read.