I wanted to love this collection. I really did. When I taught Intro Creative Writing last semester, I assigned Lauren Groff's short story "Delicate Edible Birds" because, nearly five years after reading it in Best American Short Stories, I still remembered the plot and characters so vividly. My students responded well to the beautiful prose of the harrowing WWII-era story. They spent most of our class period debating issues of rape and the stigma surrounding female sexuality. Rereading the piece convinced me that I needed to pick up the rest of Groff's collection which I hoped would be just as polished and hard-hitting as "Delicate Edible Birds." Unfortunately, many of Groff's other stories left me wanting.
I immediately recognized "L. DeBard and Aliette" from an another version of Best American Short Stories I read back in college. The tale is both a beautiful and grotesque love story between a crippled young girl (struck by polio) and a professional swimmer back in the era of the Spanish Influenza. L. DeBard is hired on as Aliette's swim instructor but is soon pulled into a sexual relationship with her. A budding adolescent, Aliette hovers between the sweet, innocent daughter and the sexual seductress. This conflict (and, to many in our society, conundrum) is one that Groff continually does well, imbuing her female characters with all the confusion and contradictions that society casts on young women.
The overall arc of the story, however—like many in this collection—doesn't quite work for me. At times, Groff seems to want to focus on too large of a timeline (in many cases, the main character's entire life) for the individual stories in this collection to feel thematically contained or succinct. From my understanding, every piece in the book is inspired by the life of a real woman, so the cast of characters is certainly worthy of investigation. I wonder, however, if some of the real-life details or events didn't constrain or otherwise overwhelm these thoughtfully crafted stories.