The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self”

Danielle Evans has an impressive ear for the emotional rhythms of teenage girls and twentysomething women. In the first story, “Virgins,” from Evans’s debut collection of short fiction, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self , the narrator describes her relationship with her best friend: “Me and Jasmine always shared everything, and after I showered I went through Jasmine’s closet like I would have gone through mine, looking for something to wear out later,” says Erica, a working-class girl from Mount Vernon, N.Y. But that sharing has become difficult in the past year, as Jasmine looks at Erica and tells her bluntly, “Look at you, stretching out my jeans wit your big old ass.” Erica says that Jasmine is just jealous of her ass, and that Jasmine “was small but all the meat she had on her was settled in her tummy, which was a cute little puff now but would be a gut someday if she ever got fat.”

In this brief exchange, Evans has captured that intoxicating adolescent combination of extreme closeness, jealousy, and continuous comparison. And as the story’s title implies, Erica’s relationship with Jasmine deeply influences her sexual choices. “Virgins,” like the other stories in the collection, explores racial and sexual politics-topics that could veer into melodrama but don’t here. In fact, Evans is sometimes too restrained, like in the story “Harvest,” about a woman whose white suitemate at Columbia sells her eggs to make money. As Entertainment Weekly put it, these few wrong notes have an ” overly workshopped ” feel to them. Even with these minor missteps, Evans’s voice is well-developed, and the stories are consistently engaging and surprising; a highly recommended read for this fall.