The central event of the first story in Giada Scodellaro’s debut collection, “The Cord,” is so shocking that I’ve been thinking about it for days. “We met on a bus,” the story begins. “It is not an ideal place to meet, the seats are too close, and everyone is ashamed to be there.” I won’t spoil what happens, except to say that into this familiar setting, an intrusion occurs, a deeply jarring one, that enstranges everything thereafter: “…[A]ll the bodies are leaning forward, bodies on a bus jerking forward then slightly back in unison, another pause in our collective journey.” In less than 250 words, “The Cord” establishes many of the collection’s themes and subtly asks questions that the stories will revisit again and again: How do we satisfy our erotic longings? How do we negotiate bodily boundaries in the search for intimacy? How do we live in urban landscapes that are both overpopulated and isolating? Not a single moment in these stories unfolds predictably. Each one requires your full attention.
Scodellaro’s audacious debut Some of Them Will Carry Me is the latest publication from Dorothy, a press that has published the likes of Renee Gladman, Jen George, Leonora Carrington, and Barbara Pym. Many of the 36 stories in this collection are no longer than a paragraph. Despite their brevity, the shortest stories in this collection are deeply immersive, distillations of complex moments of experience. The story “George Washington’s Dentures” is a single sentence, an evocative list of details with a breathtaking scope. Some of these stories experiment with form; Scodellaro infuses the recipe in “Leave a Fingerprint, Gnocchi” with a sense of character voice and dramatic movement. The accrual of description and imagery of “it” in the story “Adult Head” is rich and seductive:
“And it’s not what you believe it to be. It’s blue, but also innumerably green…Of course it’s navy, black, cyan, royal and aqua, aquamarine, azure, baby blue, byzantine, celeste, cerulean, turquoise denim, indigo, sapphire, but also teal, plus mint, Kelly olive, jade army, artichoke—but colors can’t describe a thing.”
As in the work of writers like Garielle Lutz, meaning here isn’t so much created as unearthed, by way of line-by-line recursion, propulsive brevity, and a sense of play in the prose. Scodellaro’s protagonists—Black, female—are driven to extremes by emotional precarity; their dramas take the angular, impressionistic turns of arthouse film.
These characters fight fiercely to defend the psychic borders of the incongruous spaces they inhabit. While her apartment undergoes construction, Serendipitá, the protagonist in “The Balcony,” takes refuge on her mesh-covered balcony. She is warned that the balcony is structurally unsafe, but insists on spending her days high off the ground, contemplating her neighbors, the street below, and her own bodily needs and cravings. Serendipitá occasionally descends to the street. More frequently, however, the world crowds onto the balcony with her (she and her lover, Raven, have sex on the balcony: “They take turns straddling, filling, pushing—pushing a neck…for Raven it’s an act of rebellion; for Serendipitá it’s something else entirely.”). The balcony becomes an external representation of Serendipitá’s inner world, a fortress she attempts to defend from potential transgressors.
These stories have deep cultural roots. They are peppered with familiar visual touchstones; readers of a certain age will instantly recognize the album cover described in “Pendergrass” (“Teddy, with his eyes closed, the widow’s peak touching the center, three gold chains sitting against his chest cavity and the white tank top…”). When two women sit ignored in a drafty passport office in “Three Months of Banana,” the conjuring of an iconic image becomes an effort to maintain dignity in a humiliating situation. In the form of Betty Davis, the women seek agency, and find it:
“It’s a photo of Miles Davis’s second wife, “[R]emember Betty Davis? Betty Mabry with her mouth ajar, Mabry, no it’s Davis…I’ll call her Davis, but do you remember that photo of her with her bottom teeth showing, her right breast leaning into the center, remember? In Vibe with her legs apart? How could you not? It was in Vibe or Ebony or something, you don’t remember her straddling the motorcycle in the (sucks teeth) the zebra-print leotard and those sheer stockings, the fingers all painted red…her shoulders covered with feathers?...[S]he owns them, she owns them, they beg for her and that’s who I most wanted to be like.”
Hominy, the protagonist of “The New Husband,” is Serendipitá’s spiritual sister, and a woman of a certain age who “can still fuck,” the story tells us; she remarries, maintaining a keen awareness of the materiality of her relationship:
“The apartment belongs to the new husband. It doesn’t fit Hominy, but she places her things in it. She places her things next to the items that do not belong to her, her few items of clothing: a mint-green sweater and a leather jacket lined with wool. A first-edition Fran Ross, a spider plant.”
What matters most, as Hominy experiences the ups and downs of this late in life marriage, are the risks she takes in order to boldly self-declare.
Where Scodellaro’s characters do not find intimacy, they forge it. In “Spalding,” Jazmynn lingers in the intimate moments of her last days with her long-term lover: “Before his departure Jazmynn had helped him to shave his eyebrows, his back, his shins, and his arms with the razor. Together they rubbed cocoa butter all over his body.” After he leaves, she gathers all the items he’s left behind and takes a long moment of spiritual pause. Another woman, one who may or may not be her lover’s new partner, shows up, Jazmynn and the woman develop a physical closeness, a near-reluctant one. They talk like old friends, have dinner together, and fall asleep on the bed with the former partner’s items between them.
In Mark McGurl’s essay “Gigantic Realism,” he laments the disappearance of the giant from realist literature. The “supersized beings” in works like Gulliver’s Travels now only “live on in children’s literature and cinema and advertisements for frozen vegetables.” McGurl suggests that the “visible incongruity” of the giant performs a narrative metafunction in fiction, often representing the “distorting effects of subjectivity.” Relatedly, Some of Them Will Carry Me overall encourages a wholesale reconsideration of scale; narratives are built through close focus, emphasizing the drama in small detail, subtle change, minute movement. Scodellaro, who has a background in photography, is constantly calibrating the vision of the reader, like zooming a camera lens, to more closely examine image and surface; the mundane is surveyed until it gives way to the unusual. The reader comes to discern scenic texture and turbulence that she might, under other circumstances, fail to notice. Scodellaro excavates the narrative tension even from moments with little to no actual motion. Consider the opening lines of “YYYY:”
“As Kendra’s son climbs through the opening in the floor, he sees the woman. First her heels, her bruised ankles, her buttocks. The woman is standing in the corner of the room, facing the wall. Kendra’s son is looking at her from this position, through the opening in the floor.”
The whole of “YYYY” is an examination of this unusual staging from the point of view of Kendra’s son (whose name we never learn, nor do we meet Kendra). This deliberate positioning is not casual. It defines this couple, quantifying the closeness (and the distance) between them.
The inscrutability and detachment of these protagonists will likely frustrate a certain reader. Others, however, will appreciate the bone-clean language and spare surrealism these narratives offer. While the stories are not linked in any obvious way (the main character in “False Lashes” might be the same as the one in “The Cord,” on a different day, with a different man—she’s just as impassioned and determined to pursue emotional and physical connection), the sharp specificity of the occasional recurring detail may inspire in the reader (at least, it inspired in me) a gasp of recognition, a brief moment of déjà vu. These stories reward—and demand—rereading.
Scodellaro’s power and gift lie in her uncommon inventiveness, in how sensitively and patiently she plumbs narrative potentialities of a single moment. This singular, captivating debut story collection tethers one unique, explosive moment to another, and then another. The way life is lived.