What makes the stories in Danielle Evans’s debut short-story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, remarkable is how the characters, whether knowingly or unwittingly, play both victim and accomplice in events that reroute their lives.
In the decade since the summer when a treetop shove from a prying cousin left her in the hospital with a shattered leg, Tara, the hardheaded narrator of the story “Snakes,” goes on to pursue a law degree and romantic liaisons, tapping the childhood injury to curry respect and sympathy when occasion requires. But by story’s end—when, in response to the same cousin’s failed suicide attempt, Tara visits the hospital and offers her a place to recover—we can’t be sure whether she was pushed or, as she ponders, might have jumped (“less afraid of the fall than what else I thought awaited me”) and let her cousin take the rap.
The 26-year-old Evans—who teaches in American University’s graduate program in creative writing—heeds the lesson taught by writers from Henry James to J.D. Salinger: that to make a narrator unreliable is to make him or her human.
Readers can look forward to Evans’s next project, a novel set against the backdrop of a DC charter school.
This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of the Washingtonian.