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Girlchild is narrated by Rory Dawn Hendrix, “feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter.” She lives in the Calle de la Flores trailer park, in the “rum-and-semen-stained outskirts of Reno.” Rory’s father is long gone, and her mother’s good intentions are drowned in alcohol. Despite this bleak setting, Hassman’s daring debut novel is a joy to read. The rich and dense language, full of surprise, word play, and revelation, makes the book a sensual pleasure, every chapter a prose poem.
Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they’re coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we’ll agree that there has been “No problem, Officer, we’ll keep it down.”
After being introduced to Theo, a seven-foot tall wooden, dancing, and rampant pig that guards the hallway, I sat down with Tupelo Hassman in the living room of her Oakland apartment, but as I turned on the tape recorder, she jumped up.
Oh shit! Are we really going to do this?