If you read Melissa Goodrich’s “Daughters of Monsters” very slowly, concentrating on each sentence, the book will change you. Each story will change you in the same but slightly different way, because each story has a theme of transformation.
The opening story provides a lesson in impermanence with a shape-shifting Cinderella, adaptable but empty, every day changing into a new form but never able to stay long enough to figure out how to get what she wants. The second story continues with this central idea of consistent and surprising change, but with more blunt violence, having the person only change forms when they die like a reincarnation cycle. Maybe there is a way for everything to stop existing, however random – a cabbage pulled up by the roots, a computer document infected with a virus, a ticket catching fire.
Goodrich’s characters seem to urge us to be more careful with everything we have.
Everyone needs moments of gratitude for life, and shouldn’t wait for fear of death to inspire them, but this fear is often what does it. “It’s the one time we can scream about everything with no one saying to can it. Everyone’s just glad we’re not dying.” You can let monsters, fierce gorillas, into your house and you name them, but you can’t control the way they both destroy and save you. You also can’t help but see the way that everything connects with one purpose – to amplify the near miracles of humanity, prove that it flourishes despite relentlessly strange circumstances.
Noah’s ark, men growing inside coconuts, mothers turning into oranges that burn and feed ghosts, feeding naked angels, sexting lies, creating worlds without birds and worlds of lava before land and moons. Being multiple past and present and future versions of one person. Everyone is a magician. Everything is evolution, navigating different forms. It is not as impossible as it seems. It makes more sense than it should.
“The rule is you are in charge of your story. Which means you are in charge of your endings.”
Goodrich’s stories often contain elements of the unsatisfactory lives of women, lives full of sex that doesn’t fill empty spaces and never achieving the standard of beauty of women in French films. Describing yourself as soft and pink and wet when you’re not. Never realizing how perfect it was without having to pretend it was otherwise, never realizing how beautiful you actually were, until it is much later or too late. There is a suggestion that cheating and moving on are just transformations. Maybe karma, or a god, or the sun, determines whether the next stage of life will be a good one.
“And I said for no reason, Look at me. I said, Tell me you don’t see things changing,” one character says. It can be risky to change, to try for something better, when what you have is good enough. Goodrich does not settle for mediocre in her work. She does not depend on cliches, instead using fresh metaphors that paint so many images it is almost sensory overload. Read slowly, give time to every sentence, and your heart will snap like celery at the beauty of it.
There is so much death, difficulty breathing and ghosts following, but there is usually life at the end. “The rule is you are in charge of your story. Which means you are in charge of your endings.” It’s okay to get on and off planes obsessively and have no idea where you’re going. There are a million ways to say you’re never coming back, and a million ways to come back even after you’ve said you won’t. If you wander through map stores like lost people do, maybe in one of these stories you will find someone who is a little bit like you.
(Jellyfish Highway Press, Fiction, 2016)
BETHANY MARY is a meditative tea snob studying gerontology in Minnesota. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and now reads submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. As an asexual advocate for a sexual assault center and blogger for Resources for Ace Survivors, she focuses on boundaries and mental health in her own writing. Some of her work is out in the world, and she rants on Twitter @bethanylmary.