26th Sep 2012
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Girlchild , the first novel from Tupelo Hassman, will indoctrinate the reader into her cult from the first page and spits out new converts, glassy-eyed and eager to extol the writer’s virtues at every opportunity.
Rory Hendrix is a Moonrise Kingdom-style scout, circa Kirsten Dunst in Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Stuck in a Reno trailer park; without a troupe, badge or leader, Rory gets by on her imagination and a combination of cynicism and optimism.
The state condemns Rory and her good-time, ill-used, bartender Mama, as a “generation [of] bastards surely on the road to whoredom.”
But the Hendrixes do not sink beneath this condemnation, Mama continues to disappear into the dark trailer park in search of love and Rory continues to always be prepared.
Hassman’s treacle and broken glass prose submerge the reader. She offers velvet covered electric shocks with biting observation and jagged paragraphs, some comprised completely of blacked out lines when Rory is visited by the Hardware Man.
Girlchild is brutal in its depiction of the largely unknown, forgotten trailer park inhabitants but, for the most part, it does not deal with specifics.
Instead Hassman acknowledges that we inhabit a pop culture landscape saturated in personal tragedy, by asking the reader to read between the black bars covering Rory’s abuse.
In a similar manner to Emma Donoghue, Hassman opens up an arena for the reader’s imagination. Just like the character of Jack in Donoghue’s Room, it is the parts of her torment that Rory does not share that will intruige and repel the reader in equal measure.
Hassman has rejected suggestions that Girlchild belongs to, or was inspired by, the genre of the misery memoir. Preferring to highlight the hidden nature of US trailer parks and their “pockets of poverty”.
This claim stands up to scrutiny when the style, tone and structure of her accomplished writing are taken into consideration - but such suggestions also speak to the labels and assumptions a writer like Hassman must combat.
A debut novel set in a trailer park lends itself to quick value judgements and prejudices. As a fully paid up Hassman convert, however, I hope that Girlchild attracts the readers it deserves and is swiftly acknowledged as a modern classic – this is an exceptional debut from a fascinating writer which deserves every literary prize and accolade going.
Recommended for: Everyone. But specifically fans of beautiful fiction to set your heart breaking and racing.
Other recommended reading: Room by Emma Donoghue, for reasons mentioned above, The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon, and My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin for a less harrowing account of a young girl trapped in the wilderness.
Beulah Maud Devaney