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Daddy: Stories

Review

Daddy: Stories

When Emma Cline released her debut, THE GIRLS, she was quickly heralded as one of the country’s best young novelists, earning rave reviews for her superb writing and ability to weave violence and coming-of-age themes into a compulsively readable thrill ride. Now she returns with DADDY, a collection of short stories that delve into complicated interactions between men and women, old age and youth, past and present. With stories that linger and characters brewing with malcontent, Cline’s first collection proves that THE GIRLS was no fluke and she is here to stay.

I should start this review by stating that I am not your typical short story reader: I prefer narratives that are lengthy and winding, and I like to spend hours with good characters. That said, I would read a grocery list from Emma Cline, and I am so grateful that I ignored my usual distaste for short stories when I picked up DADDY.

"Perfect for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld and Jac Jemc, DADDY is a complex and sharply observed collection of stories from a brilliant young author that will leave readers hungry for her next novel."

In the same vaguely disconcerting way that she kicked off THE GIRLS, Cline eases us into her book with “What Can You Do with a General,” a seemingly conventional story about a man preparing for his adult children to return home for the holidays. As he considers the ways that they have grown ungrateful and notes how distracted his eldest daughter seems over her new relationship with a much older man, he slips shockingly violent thoughts into very normal ones. Juxtaposing the everyday with the horrifying, Cline hints at a dark past and a sense of rage simmering just beyond the page. And just like that, readers are lulled into a false sense of security that Cline quickly upends.

Each of these stories is interesting enough on its own --- a woman escaping an affair with a celebrity, a middle-aged man traveling to his son’s boarding school to deal with a problem, and even two women in a luxury rehab center --- but what unites them is an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and inadequacy. All of Cline’s characters stand on their own, but each is at a low point. In “Los Angeles,” we meet a young girl who works at a trendy store as she watches her dreams of acting fade away. “Son of Friedman” is about an aging and down-on-his-luck producer who reunites with a more successful friend. And tales of infidelity and divorce dance through the background of nearly every story, with a father figure always leading the way, directly or not.

Cline deftly digs into her characters’ insecurities, laying them bare on the page, and immersing readers into their lives with swiftness and accuracy. This is a talent that always leaves me in awe, but in short stories it is especially necessary, and she wastes no time setting each of her stories straight and getting her audience acclimated.

The pieces in DADDY present a “slice of life” in a unique character, typically one who is at a crossroads and quite often masking some hidden anger or resentment. Cline finds strength in these moments, pushing her characters right to the edge and letting readers put together the pieces of how they got there. This is an intellectual but thrilling collection that thrives on discomfort and plain awkwardness, be it from the tension of a difficult conversation, the pain of losing a loved one, or the subtleties of the relationships between men and women.

Though I cannot say that I found any of the 10 stories here to be weaker than the rest, there are certainly highlights, namely “Los Angeles,” “The Nanny” and “Marion.” While each focuses on reflection and the potential for any interaction to go awry with even the slightest misunderstanding, there is a quiet, violent twist to these tales that made me feel like Cline had lived with her characters for much longer than a single short story. “Marion,” which centers on a young girl coming of age and learning about sexuality with her slightly older friend, has a delicious “Mean Girls” vibe to it, but with the added elements of questionable parents, strange adults and the intoxication of friendship. This entry in particular wowed me --- it had all the same vibrancy and horror of THE GIRLS, but concentrated in a few shocking pages --- and if there is a peak to the book, this is definitely it.

Perfect for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld and Jac Jemc, DADDY is a complex and sharply observed collection of stories from a brilliant young author that will leave readers hungry for her next novel.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 18, 2020

Daddy: Stories
by Emma Cline