Riding in Cars with Girls by Evangeline Jennings
7th Apr 2015
The first full-length solo collection from Pankhearst‘s founding editor (those who’ve been paying attention might already recognise Evangeline Jennings as a contributing author to our anthologies Short Stack and Derby Shorts), Riding in Cars with Girls is a sequel-of-sorts to the first Pankhearst book, the ‘femme-noir sampler’ Cars & Girls. And it’s every bit as powerful as its predecessor.
Cars & Girls featured “a cast of brave, badass heroines who swing from fragility to ferocity with more speed and power than their weapons or getaway cars,” and you could certainly say the same of Riding in Cars with Girls.
In signature Jennings style, characters are damaged, damned and dangerous, and never quite what they seem. With her recognisably distinctive, dynamic and subversive voice, Jennings’ narrators take us on a twisting, twisted joyride with sex, violence and secrets at each sharp and screeching turn.
The stories showcase a wealth of settings and experiences; from the high-class hooker on the run after accidentally fucking a Mafia Don to death, to a widow chasing her husband's killer across a America via the two teenage car thieves from a South London council estate.While consistently tightly-paced, audacious and action-driven (no pun intended), the stories and narrators nevertheless showcase a wealth of settings and experiences; from the high-class hooker on the run after accidentally fucking a Mafia Don to death, to a widow chasing her husband’s killer across a America via the two teenage car thieves from a South London council estate.
This last, Audi, was the clear standout for me, featuring street-smart sixteen-year-olds who steal “a luxury monster of a car” from a billionaire banker by seducing his son, then use it to take a starring role in the first annual Scumball Rally, a globe-spanning illegal road race with millions in prize money at stake.
The collection’s grand finale is Crown Victoria, a story – significantly more of a long, slow burn than the others – also featured in Cars & Girls, in which “two young runaway lovers with a steep price on their heads take a savage road trip through every kind of crazy.”
As hellraisers with hidden pasts, most of the protagonists share several key traits, but there’s a diverse range of voices in the collection, and it’s a testament to Jennings’ authorial skills that they all feel authentic.
As in her previous work, Jennings centres the lives and voices of those who don’t always get heard elsewhere; in mainstream, commercial fiction or in the wider world. Queer, trans and disabled characters are all represented without preaching or patronising, and that in itself makes Riding in Cars with Girls a rewarding and refreshing read.
The anthology’s shortcomings are primarily to do with the limitations of the short story form; readers have only so much time to connect to the characters, and without more in-depth history, they can only empathise so far. Likewise, while the recurring themes make the collection conceptually strong, race through it at breakneck speed like I did and it can all become a blur.
Overall though, there’s something cinematic and unnerving – in the best way possible – about Riding in Cars with Girls. Close to home and close to the bone, these tales of identity, trust, fear and fantasy make us confront ourselves; what we’re making a break to or from, and what we’d do if our only choice involved a full tank of gas and an open road (and maybe a few weapons or wads of cash).
And although there’s no Thelma and Louise freeze-frame fades-to-black, ambiguous and unhappy endings abound in Riding in Cars with Girls. But – as with all trailblazing road-trips – this is about the journey, not the destinations.
So get ready for an endorphin rush and hitch a ride on the the adrenalin-fueled, exhilarating, dangerous and desperate journeys in this powerful, polarising collection. Then put the pedal to the metal and grab a copy while you can.