In her debut collection, Mary South’s characters use technology to escape their uncontrollable feelings of grief or rage or despair, only to reveal their most flawed and human selves. These 10 stories feature an impressive range of voices, alternatingly provocative, wistful, and calculatingly disaffected in prose that is fiercely intelligent and outlandishly funny.
Old men in a nursing home dial phone-sex hotlines to stave off their debilitating loneliness in “The Great Geezer Dirty Talk Disaster of the Twenty-First Century.” In “Architecture for Monsters,” (previously published in Conjunctions), an architect draws dubious ethical inspiration from her daughter’s birth defect for the buildings she designs. Embroiled in the custody battle of a nasty divorce, a husband and wife take turns ripping each other apart in an annotated Microsoft Word letter to their kids in “The Last Real American Divorce.” And in the title story, a content moderator for Google is obsessed with stalking her rapist’s online activity, so much so that she starts stalking him in real life.
South explores how the Internet both collapses our relationships from within but also provides opportunities for connection. Savagely critical of the increasingly fraught cultural climates we inhabit, these stories also offer hope in the minute interactions and moments of tenderness between characters. Akin to the formally inventive as well as darkly absurdist style of Carmen Maria Machado or Alissa Nutting, South’s stories reveal both our grotesque selfishness and our intense need for love and acceptance; our psychic pain that shuts us off from each other but also allows us to discover our deepest reaches of empathy.
Mary South is a graduate of Northwestern University and the MFA program in fiction at Columbia University where she was a Henfield Scholar. She has studied with Ben Marcus, Sam Lipsyte, and Gordon Lish, and worked alongside Diane Williams for many years as an editor at the literary journal NOON. Her writing has appeared in The Collagist, Conjunctions, Electric Literature, The New Yorker’s “Book Bench,” NOON, and Words Without Borders.