Authors: Elizabeth Mckenzie
Tags: #Literary, #Coming of Age, #Fiction
Table of Contents
To my family,
and to the memory
of my mother
STOP THAT GIRL
“Ann Ransom [is] a funny, ferocious and intensely likable narrator. McKenzie is an accomplished humorist and a developed stylist, and she wastes no time dazzling the reader with her clean direct language, her simple but searing use of metaphor and her unflinching eye. . . . The paragraphs are put together with razor sharp concision, and the book is rich in both narrative and linguistic surprise. . . . An original.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Within fifteen pages Ann has broken Granny’s arm and begun her discovery that the world is a wide and various place filled with all sorts of odd people with weird ideas and motives, which pretty much describes the world of the rest of these stories, populated by angry mothers, voracious boyfriends, laid-back California entrepreneurs, an odd Australian environmentalist. . . . Hilarious . . . Call these excerpts from a life you never dreamed of before reading about it . . . anti–fairy tales, stories that seem so true you’ll say to yourself, ‘Oh, these awful and sometimes lovely things must have actually happened.’ That’s always the mark of a convincing writer.”
ALAN CHEUSE, NPR’s “All Things Considered”
“It would be easy to give up on the quirky, girly coming-of-age novel, except that when it works, there are few forms more pleasurable to read. And
Stop That Girl
works, on just about every level. . . . A lovely, funny, lucidly written account. . . . McKenzie’s sentences are beautifully, cleanly made, with no excess nonsense. . . . She’s single-handedly reinvigorated the coming-of-age genre. Here is a writer to watch, and a book to breeze through with glee.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
] is full of such unexpected incidents—the damage is quirky but no less acute. . . . Candid, perceptive . . . [McKenzie’s] tales flail with reckless energy. . . . Appealingly idiosyncratic, sharpened throughout by a keen sense of humor.”
—The Village Voice
“Elizabeth McKenzie takes two difficult forms—the novel-in-stories and the coming-of-age tale—and makes them work brilliantly together.
Stop That Girl
is one of the funniest and smartest fiction debuts I’ve read in a long, long time.”
ROBERT OLEN BUTLER, author of
Had a Good Time
“McKenzie’s take on childhood is so smart, funny and fiercely observant. . . . [She delivers] such delicious paragraphs . . . Gets the youthful intimation of mortality down to perfection.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Deftly captures one woman’s life . . . A fine first book, alive with energy, wit, and real promise.”
“Vibrant and clear, these connected stories present a portrait of a family whose members are funny and hurtful and real, and watching them touched by time and change is very affecting. There is a lovely expansiveness here; surrounding the humor is the recognition that life is a serious deal.”
ELIZABETH STROUT, author of
Abide with Me
funny and her stories are wry and tuned to pop culture and politics. They inspire fantasies about being her best friend.”
—East Bay Express
“A deliciously intelligent novel, funny and original and exact. McKenzie has a wonderful eye—and a relishing appetite—for the craziness that’s everywhere in ordinary things if you know how to look.”
TESSA HADLEY, author of
Everything Will Be All Right
“Why is it such a kick to read Elizabeth McKenzie’s
Girl? Certainly Ann Ransom, the impulsive schoolgirl who comes of age in these interconnected tales, has more than her share of heartbreak. . . . Ann embraces life with a wary insight that couldn’t be more engaging. A smart, swift-paced debut.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Starting with a mynah bird who says ‘Kill me!,’ Ann Ransom views her world with mordant glee. Reading
Stop That Girl
was like remembering a life I’ve never lived—a lucid, wistful pleasure of the keenest sort.”
RACHEL CLINE, author of
What to Keep
“[A] delightful novel about a girl growing up in the mosh pit of family . . . Ann is wise beyond her years; she’s also a wiseacre. Her rebellious, buoyant nature gilds her words as well as her deeds. . . . Smart girls everywhere will see themselves in Ann’s smart mouth. Still—it’s Ann in action that hallmarks this irrepressibly upbeat coming-of-age novel. . . . [
] leads us to consider our own childhoods, and it does in a way that is both poignant and optimistic.”
—Santa Cruz Sentinel
“Lively . . . Ann is an engaging heroine with keen observations and self-deprecating humor. Through her, McKenzie explores the myriad dynamics of family and friendship in evocative and graceful prose.”
—Rocky Mountain News
is sharp enough to make you howl with laughter, poignant enough to bring on tears. Ann Ransom, McKenzie’s brave and unforgettable protagonist, can survive her turbulent childhood only by being gorgeously, fiercely herself. This is a terrific book.”
JULIE ORRINGER, author of
How to Breathe Underwater
“Delightful and wrenching . . . a dynamic and honest portrait of a girl’s journey to womanhood.”
—The Charlotte Observer
“Elizabeth McKenzie renders a 1970s adolescence with fresh images and quiet power. I couldn’t get
Stop That Girl
out of my head.”
LUCINDA ROSENFELD, author of
Why She Went Home
“Mature and well wrought; although Ann is sometimes baffled by the choices of her loved ones, she does her best to respect and honor them. This tendency, along with her humor, loyalty, and humility, makes Ann a completely likable character in a completely likable coming-of-age novel. . . . Emotionally reverberant, this book is highly recommended.”
“The nine stories in this collection are laugh-out-loud funny, but often poignant enough to bring a lump to your throat.... An intelligent, original read.”
“Unsentimental; its young narrator looks at the world through an oddball’s eyes; she dispenses with consoling illusions early. The writing has a cool economy, too.”
“As is eminently apparent from the elegant style, sharp wit, and captivating voice in
Stop That Girl,
there will be no stopping Elizabeth McKenzie in her literary career. This is a superb book.”
JENNY MCPHEE, author of
No Ordinary Matter
“Shockingly assured . . . What’s most wonderful about these thoroughly entertaining stories is how subtle they are.”
“How about a coming-of-age story with a little imagination? . . . Ann’s voice and sensibility give the book an extra touch of fun. (Dig the car chase that involves an estranged grandmother and Allen Ginsberg.) Stop that girl? When you get a load of her, you definitely won’t want to.”
runs at breakneck speed from beginning to end; this is a wildly original, unforgettable debut, funny and poignant and perfect for anyone who has survived childhood.”
KATE WALBERT, author of
“Ann Ransom is unstoppable. . . . McKenzie shows us that life is a series of stories that are linked like chains. . . . Ann tells us of her eventful life in a matter-of-fact, deadpan voice— often wildly funny but just as often thoughtful and sad—that will appeal to both adults and YAs.”
Stop That Girl,
Elizabeth McKenzie’s observations prove to be droll, shrewd, fair-minded, and irresistibly entertaining. This is a writer whose modesty and ingenuousness threaten to disguise the range and subtlety of her gifts.”
—C. MICHAEL CURTIS
“Wry, clever . . . McKenzie’s humor, Ann’s touching bravado and the collection’s subtle evocation of emotional undercurrents make this a poignant, incisive debut.”
made me laugh out loud, not only because it’s funny, but also from sheer delight. At the same time, the novel provided that perfect companionable sadness that can only be found in a good book. Elizabeth McKenzie is a wonderful talent.”
JANE HAMILTON, author of
“Stellar . . . clever and bittersweet . . . Elizabeth McKenzie is definitely an author to watch out for. Her writing is crisp, sharp, hilarious, touching, and utterly original.”
Stop That Girl
My mother and I lived alone then, in a pink bungalow in Long Beach, with a small yard full of gopher holes and the smell of the refinery settling over everything we had. We couldn’t leave our glasses on the shelves a week without them gathering a fine mist of oil. I thought we had a real life anyway, before my mother started over.
We employed a stocky Yorkshire woman to walk me home from school past the barbershop with the unhappy mynah bird. “Kill me!” it suggested as we passed by.
I never knew my father. Named Ransom, he was some frat boy who danced well. Mom believed I’d have a leveler head.
My mother worked in petroleum research. She was a geology major in college and went to field camps in Wyoming and was renowned for shooting a bobcat at a hundred yards while it was cuffing around her professor’s beagle. For the oil company, she looked through telescopes at the moon, as if there might be something useful up there. Mom felt her job was a joke. When she came home at night, she locked herself in the bathroom for an hour, taking a hot bath filled with salts.
She was said to look like Lauren Bacall in those days and dated a few of the engineers from the refinery. While Mom went searching for her purse and coat, they would bribe me with something, like it was up to me to release her: Silly Putty, a magnet, a comic book, a stuffed pig with a music box in it.
There we are in Long Beach the fall I’m nearly eight, when the nights have grown cooler and our gas wall unit bangs out its stale-smelling heat, and we’re on the brink of changes so vast it’s hard to believe we don’t see them coming. One Saturday evening, we receive a new visitor in the form of Roy Weeks, a real estate broker, a handsome talker with dimples, cowboy boots, and a rounded ruby ring that looks like a bloody eyeball. He brings a bouquet as big as a baby, and my mother holds it that way. He slips me a piece of Dubble Bubble. By the following week it’s a Slip ’N Slide. I suspect he appeals to that secret Wild West part of my mother, but it’s more. A few months later my mother tells me, “Roy’s taking us both out for a drive today, Ann. We’re going to see a house.”
I sit in the backseat of Roy’s Pontiac as we leave Long Beach behind. We aim for the San Fernando Valley. “You mean we’re going to buy a house out here?” I ask Mom. We’re in the Encino hills; compared to Long Beach it looks like paradise. Huge ranch houses and big yards; rosebushes, hibiscus, banana trees, palms.
“Well, maybe,” my mother says, turning around in her seat like she has something to tell me. “We might buy a house—with Roy.”
“No, with him. We might all live out here together.”
“Ann, are you ready for that?” Roy says, eyeing me in his mirror.
I realize what they’re trying to tell me.
We pull up in front of a huge, shingled yellow house, as long as the entire row of bungalows in Long Beach. My mother looks stunned as we wander into the place. It has beamed ceilings, parquet floors, a kitchen with an island and double range, a breakfast nook and bar, a family room, three bedrooms, three baths, two fireplaces, and a den. They show me the room that would be mine; it has sheer pink curtains and wallpaper with ballerinas on it, something for a well-defined girl. When we finish inspecting the place, Roy Weeks says, “Ann, hit me right here! As hard as you can!” He is pointing at his stomach.
I don’t ask why. I just do it.
“I’m waiting.” He winks at my mother.
My hand hurts. I kick him in the shin.
Nine months later, Mrs. Weeks has retired from petroleum work, pregnant. In the afternoons, in our new palace, she sews clothes and toys and bedding for the baby, placing them in the nursery-to-be, while I’m thinking of names. Percy is the one I’m rooting for.
Quiet collects in the rooms of that big house more than anywhere we’ve lived. I often tell my mother it’s a tomb, and she says, “Ann, I love this man. But you are still the most important person in the world to me”—the words I live for—and I skate around the parquet floor in my socks, still feeling like it’s all just temporary. I still can’t believe that another family has moved into the pink bungalow, that the woman I called Nana has returned to Leeds, and that a few friends from my school in Long Beach write me real letters with stamps on them like I’ve moved across the world.
“How about a swim?” Mom asks me after school nowadays.
I come out into the backyard after a while and see my mother, in her white flowered bathing cap, doing graceful laps up and down the pool. This is no kidney-shaped job, as Roy points out. It’s a classic rectangle of crystal blue, and my eyes follow the long wake of my mother’s stroke.
“Come on in,” Mom calls to me.
To surprise my mother, I say “Okay” and walk straight into the pool with all my clothes on. She laughs and doesn’t get mad at me for possibly ruining my leather shoes. It’s in the afternoons after school when I know I still have an impact on her. Once Roy’s home, she acts like he’s our savior.
One evening he insists we accompany him to some open-house thing, and I climb onto the roof of the Pontiac and won’t get off.
“Get down, Ann,” my pregnant mother says, waiting swaybacked by the car. Roy snaps at my ankles like a crab.
“From up here I can see the reservoir,” I say. “I think boys are peeing into it.”
“That’s nice; let’s go.”
“Is that, like, what we drink?”
Roy stalks around the car and I hop to the other side. He charges back, and this time I slip off. I fall onto the concrete and no matter how much it hurts I decide I won’t cry. Instead I pretend I’m in a coma.
“Ann?” my mother says. “Are you all right? Look what you did!” she yells at Roy Weeks.
“Faker,” he replies. He tickles me.
I sink my teeth into his arm. He slaps me across the top of the head, and my mother tells Roy never to lay a hand on me again. Roy tells my mother I’m becoming a spoiled brat, and then I sit up and hear myself saying, “And
And thus, the following weekend, it’s decided I’m spending some time with The Frosts. The Frosts are my grandparents, but when we talk about them we always call them The Frosts. Until then, I’d only seen them once or twice a year because my mother hates them. They are young and have busy schedules for grandparents—Sherwood’s a civil engineer, Liz a pediatrician. Mom grew up a lonely daydreamer with no brothers or sisters. That’s her rationale for the new baby: so things will be different for me.
Friday afternoon Dr. Frost shows up to collect me. She looks like my mother but is smaller and more efficient, never a moment to kill. I don’t know her very well. “Put on a dress with a nice collar, Ann. And comb your hair. I want you to look pretty for your passport.”
“Why do I need a passport?”
“Hasn’t your mother told you about our trip?”
“You’re coming to Europe with me. I’m attending a medical conference. You’re going to straighten out and learn your place in the world. Good deal?”
“Europe?” I say, looking at my mother. “When?”
“Next month,” Dr. Frost says.
Next month is May. May is a big month. May is when Mom is having the baby.
“I can’t go,” I say. “I need to be here for the baby.”
“You’ve been a big help already,” my mother says.
“I need to help more!”
Dr. Frost says, “After we have your picture taken, let’s go buy some new clothes, shall we? I’m going to need some new things myself.”
“I don’t need any new clothes.”
“All right, then, we’ll just get your picture taken,” Dr. Frost says.
I’m speechless, but finally I say, “This is definitely bizarre and grotesque,” my favorite expression in many situations. Then I add my other: “It’s also grossly mutilated and hugely deformed.”
“Ann, your grandmother has offered to take you to Europe. You’re a very lucky girl.”
Lucky? Who needs parquet floors and a pool. Who needs Europe with the very person who makes my mother scream or cry whenever they talk on the phone. I try to catch my mother’s eye, the special eye that knows me better than anyone, and say, “I don’t want to go.” But the eye doesn’t blink. There’s no hope. Though they disagree on everything else, they’re together on this one. Mom tells me, “The baby might not even come while you’re gone, who knows.”
Roy can’t make it to the airport. Neither can Granddad. I hug my mother and pat her stomach, which looks square now, like a little house. “Tell Percy to wait,” I croak out.
“I’ll try,” my mother says.
Our travels take us first to Copenhagen, city of copper domes turned green and raw beef. I’m in Europe. I’m excited. I tell myself I’ll see yodelers and eat lots of chocolate and buy souvenirs for my mother and the people I’ve been meeting at my new school. Even Dr. Frost seems to have loosened up. She’s humming and smiling without explaining why.
Our second night there, in a quaint hotel with floors tilted like a fun house, we receive a telegram from Roy Weeks:
WONDERFUL NEWS STOP WE HAVE A DAUGHTER KATHERINE LOUISE STOP MOTHER AND BABY FINE.
?” I say, grabbing the telegram. It hits me for the first time that my sister’s father is
“Can I call Mom at the hospital?”
Dr. Frost says we’ll send a telegram instead.
“Can we go home now?”
“Ann, you don’t want to see a newborn baby. They’re ugly little things with red faces. They don’t even open their eyes.”
I slide in my socks to the lower wall. Tivoli Gardens sparkles across the street. From her bag my grandmother hauls out a textbook she has brought on this trip to instruct me with. It contains pictures of every bone, every muscle, every lymph gland; the cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous systems: the works. “Tell me about dissecting cadavers,” I ask her.
“Nothing to it,” Dr. Frost says.
“But you were cutting open dead bodies. Wasn’t it bizarre and grotesque?”
“Ann, the body is an amazing machine. It’s not bizarre and grotesque at all.” She points at a skeleton.
I want to hear exciting stories about guts, not her cooled down version of them. “Dead bodies are wonderful, newborn babies are really gross?”
“Good night, Ann,” she says.
“Maybe we should go home,” I murmur, but she ignores me in a different way, pretending not to hear. I pull the covers up around my neck and fall asleep, hearing my grandmother listing bones.