Sara Pritchard. Etruscan Press, $15 paperback (220p) ISBN: 0983294488
What do we know about the woman we say hello to at the bus stop, or the homeless man standing at the interstate entrance next to the shopping complex, or the widow across the street with a yappy little dog? We get hints and snippets here and there—we piece together a character as best we can, if we even care to. Sara Pritchard is the author of Crackpots and Lately. Readers who enjoyed Pritchard’s playful humor and unsentimental treatment of human imperfections will find Pritchard has further honed her story-telling craft in Help Wanted: Female. The new collection contains ten linked stories in which she treats her readers to more than a hint about what is behind ordinary faces in ordinary houses in ordinary lives. In Pritchard’s prose, we discover that those commonplace minds contain darkly comedic and wrenching confessions, authentic worries and sorrows. Nina, in “What’s Left of the Jamie Archer Band,” reflects in late middle-age: “What does it mean to be human. . . Is it being biped with opposable thumbs and a big brain. . . Is it something a saliva test can ascertain . . . what on earth are we doing here?” Often those revelations arise when absurdity crashes through the predictable structure of daily life. Often we are desperate for answers and are not even aware of it until we ask the questions that Pritchard’s characters ask.
Pritchard, like Carol Shields and Bobbie Ann Mason, reveals the inner lives of the working-class and how they manage and strategize when faced with unpredictable circumstances, yet they do not have the endearing whimsy and affectionate touch of Pritchard’s voice. In “The Jaws of Life,” Widowed Abigail finds herself caring for an emotionally unhinged house cleaner which leads to Abigail’s acknowledgement that she isn’t innately maternal, except with her dog, Richard Burton: “She loved her dog. That was certain. No one could ever say Abigail Shaprio wasn’t a good dog mother.”
There are plenty of “good dog” mothers in Help Wanted: Female. The supporting characters of lovable pets throughout the collection, along with their eccentric celebrity names is one of the many treasures Pritchard leaves for readers to discover: Evangeline, the white terrier of a worried widower; W.B. Yeats, the nauseous elk hound of an impulsive office work, and Ponce de León who is devoted to a nostalgic Nina, even if she isn’t his first or last owner. “Forever Home,” the seventh story in the collection, finds Ponce de León on the verge of homelessness again. Pritchard ties together many characters and locations through Ponce de León’s presence. With the same affection for her human characters, Pritchard presents a “stinky” old dog’s philosophy when he sees another dog in the window of a house where he used to live: “This Ponce de León knew: 1)at any minute, your life could change, even your name; 2)at any minute you could end up back where you started; 3)at any minute you might have to leave home; 4)at any minute, someone you loved might leave you.” If your heart hasn’t melted by this point, if you aren’t weeping, you’ve got a hard heart, my friend.
Themes of home, homelessness, whims of chance, odd jobs, and jobs that lead people to odd experiences provide the structure for Pritchard’s exploration of how people treat one another. We rarely notice that a simple gesture in our own lives causes echoes in another’s life. Pritchard is tuned to the spectacle of humanity like a mystic, and then she weaves stories out of grief, empathy and befuddlement. Her astonishing, entertaining stories reveal the emotional richness of our own obscure lives. (July 2013)
Purchase Help Wanted: Female HERE.
Reviewer bio: Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine. Her recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project. One of her poems is also featured on the Washington State Poet Laureate's blog at http://kathleenflenniken.com/blog/. She teaches at Centralia College. She will graduate with her MFA, January 2014.