Just a taste: the opening lines of Victoria Redel’s short story, “On Earth,” from her new collection Make Me Do Things. Of this story, our reviewer, Richard Farrell writes:
The first sentence of “On Earth” certainly works: “‘What if we were the last ones on Earth?’ her daughter said after Sasha turned off the bedside lamp and put the book back on the shelf.” In this twenty-five page story, Redel teases out themes of family, marriage, evolution, infidelity and obsessions. The daughter, Ella, is a seven-year-old girl preoccupied with dinosaurs. Sasha worries that dinosaurs are a “boy thing.” Then, on the second page, the story swerves, destabilizing expectations and opening up fresh possibilities.
And on the collection as a whole:
It’s impossible to nail down Redel’s style. Each of these eleven stories is uniquely crafted, perhaps because she approaches them with a protean lens, focusing attention down on the particular details of narrative and syntax, so that the result is clarity of intention and meaning. As a writer, she is willing to let her images guide her, willing to follow her sentences and characters into whatever strange and twisted paths they seem destined to trod.
“What if we were the last ones on Earth?” her daughter said after Sasha turned off the bedside lamp and put the book back on the shelf.
“That’s not a bedtime question, buckaroo,” Sasha said, leaning to press her lips against her daughter’s cheek. Ella’s cheek in the dark seemed softer than at any other time of day, the skin almondy from bath soap.
“But what about the dinosaurs?” Ella said, holding Sasha’s arm. Dinosaurs were the new craze. Before, it had been fairies. She’d begged Sasha for the yellow wings they’d seen in the store. Then mermaids. Now it was everything Tyrannosaurus Rex. Everything Pterodactyl. Sasha was not prepared for her daughter’s obsession with dinosaurs. Wasn’t that a boy thing? Dump trucks, superheros, dinosaurs—what the morning coffee group called basic male destiny.
What was it with men and their end-of-the-world questions?
This afternoon, the lover had moved Sasha over to the window. “Look out there,” he’d said, positioning her against the sill as he pressed into her. “We’re all that’s left.”
“Ella, dinosaurs were hardly the last ones.” Sasha kept her voice easy and matter-of-fact. “There are new species evolving on Earth all the time.” That sounded right; she was pretty certain that it was right. But if it got down to particulars, Sasha couldn’t whip out the name of a newly discovered Amazonian insect or hybrid amphibian. Always risky to give new information before sleep. A comment like that could keep Ella up asking questions, calling Sasha back and back and back into the room. Best she could do then was angle for a morning research project. Better yet, by morning her daughter would be on to a new obsession.
“But what about the very last dinosaurs? Did the very, very last know they were the last?”
“Roll over, my beauty,” Sasha said.
Ella squiggled onto her stomach and Sasha worked her hand in small circles, the nightgown’s thin cotton bunching and slipping as she moved down the delicate ridge of her daughter’s spine. Sasha closed her eyes and worked to keep her breath and her hand slow, as if leading Ella to sleep by example.
“Did they?” Ella’s voice pushed up. There again, that urgent, worried thread. Not just a fear of extinction, but the sorrow of the final one, the one that endures and knows it is the very end.
Sasha worked two slow breaths, holding back from giving a response.
“I don’t know about the very last,” Sasha said when Ella asked again. “But I promise we’re good here for a while.” . . .
— Victoria Redel