Book Review : "Unclean Jobs For Women and Girls"


Unclean Jobs for Women and GirlsUnclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I loved the first three (of eighteen) short stories in this collection. They were very funny and also had a deeper point. I thought I was going to love this book. One of the stories was about a boozy assistant to a Swedish (?) super model who attends Andy Warhol-ish parties and speaks in riddles. It concerned feeling empty enough that reflected shine from empty celebrity seemed like a move up. Another was about a sex worker for a reality game show where one of three men wins anal sex on the moon with the narrator by winning a competitive eating contest.

So it wasn't the bizarre story lines that made me give this collection one star. I like Donald Barthelme, Russell Edson and Michael Andreason very much, for example. Ms. Nutting is very clever. A little too clever, in fact. As she parades this laundry list of self-loathing women, worthless men and violent mothers across these stories, she is long on bizarro details and story lines but she seems to either mock her characters or distance herself from their pain by making them and their situations crazy and laughable.

I'll use the penultimate story, "She-Man" as an example. She has her trans narrator start right off by saying that she "is really a man." Transphobes say that, not trans women. Her pro bowler boyfriend somehow doesn't know that she's trans and the author sets up a ridiculously kitschy parody of a certain idea of white-bread normalcy which includes her making beaded Christmas sweaters as a sideline, and the bowler boyfriend having a penchant for Kat Klocks and such. The narrator's old pimp--because, of course--shows up to blackmail her, kills her dog, and outs her to the bowler boyfriend, resulting in his bowling alley pals beating her to death with baseball bats. Nutting tries to inject some pathos at the end--as she does with many of her endings--but she has set the whole thing up all the way through with a smirk and wink, so her attempt to switch gears at the end falls short.

If Nutting concerned herself less with showing how very clever and outre she can be, and showed a little more heart for her characters--not to mention giving them some admirable qualities once in a while--her stories would be improved considerably. Not recommended.

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hedgewitch said…
Excellent review Shay. I think you hit on the essence of a lot of today's 'edgy' fiction, film and art--it is flashy, brutal and ofen amusingly different on the surface, but in reality is merely using more tricks than substance in a show of the outre without touching on the real inner human suffering, abusive oppression of conformity and existential alienation that causes such traits/events, and in the end leaves you unsatisfied.I always feel I have experienced the books you review, even if I never read them, because you bring them to life, warts and all, so clearly.