Tales of Envy and Revenge
YouWriteOn, 2009, Paperback
S. P Miskowski
has won two Swarthout prizes for short fiction and received two
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for short fiction and
drama. Her play about cyberbullying, "my new friends (are so
much better than you)" was nominated for the prestigious
American Theatre Critics Association/ Steinberg New Play Award in
2009. She is currently writing a horror novel about mother-daughter
with S. P. Miskowski
she said: She didn't care what the pottery guy did, now. In fact, she
hated him. In fact, she was thinking about suing him. I still don't
remember what she wanted to sue him for, but it was something like
harassment in reverse because he "entrapped her emotions"
and she "responded in good faith" and her passionate nature
was "taken advantage of" and "the distress was
compounded by his fake interest in art."
Reviewed by Carol Reid
Envy is a tawdry tyke of an emotion-- dishonorable and despicable,
without the high drama of the other mortal sins. Manifested as
revenge, it rarely satisfies. The opening story, Red Poppies,
is a rambling narrative in which the narrator, Hazel, seems to find a
new niche in her haphazard life. She becomes a
housecleaner-companion- muse to multi-medicated Paula, the
narcissistic wife of "middlebrow corporate liar" Thomas
Livingston the Third.
Miskowski has a knack for manipulating the reader's sympathy toward
the characters she creates. It's difficult not to feel an
uncomfortable mélange of contempt and empathy for Paula, and
frustration and empathy for the malleable and foolish Hazel, whose
shallowness, in the end, is equal to that of her employer. There are
funny and pathetic moments in this story but the sometimes flat voice
dulls the effect. This piece in particular could have been greatly
improved by a ruthless edit of dead-end paragraphs and extra
complications, such as the arrival of the Thirds' adolescent son.
In A Personal Recommendation, Sadie takes up mugging when
family financial troubles threaten to waylay her college and career
plans. Neither the motivation nor the protagonist are convincing in
this story. The back-and forth-structure, as a device to tie together
plot threads and create suspense, doesn't succeed here and the
concluding acts of violence don't have the feeling of inevitability
that would have made this story work. But, as in Red Poppies,
secondary characters shine and the scenes in which a larger-than-life
college professor misunderstands Sadie's plea for help add a nice
You Never Know is a deft, darkly funny blend of rural
depravity and skewed family values. A film crew takes up residence in
the Bowers' home, planning to film a documentary about homeowners
victimized by tax laws, little realizing the resourcefulness of the
little clan. Here the narrative voice is wry and cunning and succeeds
in winning over the reader, despite the horrors to come.
Next to Nothing the well-to-do are again the target of the
narrator's barbs. This is a scathing portrait of an inept caterer and
her fey clientele. There are some great lines here, such as,
likes to tell people she knows 'a thing or two' about food. I've been
here a couple of years now and I would say that figure is accurate."
But the general tone of the story is so petulant that the reader is
hard-pressed to care about the little food allergy incident which
brings the house down.
Boy is the shortest and perhaps the strongest piece in this
collection. It's easy to connect with this story of sibling rivalry
and escalating resentment toward the enterprising and brainless Leon,
whose latest great idea is to steal neighbors's electricity.
All the world ignores and forgives Leon his many sins-- everyone but
the exasperated narrator.
"Mother stand next to me at the patio window, watching her
'Now, this is where all that electronics training will come in handy,
' she says, because she doesn't even know that Leon flunked out of
the Dixon Academy after two weeks."
Taken individually, these stories display a flair for quirky
characterization and a sharp sense of humor. As a themed collection,
too much similarity in narrative voice, repetitive phrasing and the
emotional limits of envy and revenge weaken the whole.