She is Haunted by Paige Clark
If you’ve felt stuck in a reading slump of late, stop what you’re doing and pick up a copy of She Is Haunted. The hype for this debut short-story collection from Chinese/American/Australian fiction writer, researcher and teacher Paige Clark is definitely cheeky and confident – the cover of my advanced reading copy displays the words ‘WHO IS PAIGE CLARK?’ in all-caps, front and centre. But the hype is warranted. With She Is Haunted, Clark introduces herself as a playful and inventive voice you don’t want to sleep on, and I’m already hanging out for whatever she writes next.
The 18 stories in this collection gently blend the surreal with the all-too-real. Clark’s protagonists are almost all women: witty, raging and devastatingly relatable. These characters are all navigating the intimacy and messiness of relationships in strange and surprising ways. A mother bargains with God so that she can keep her unborn child. A widow starts to dress as her husband to avoid grieving. A woman clones her ex-boyfriend’s dog to cope with their breakup. Standout stories ‘Lie- in’, ‘In a Room of Chinese Women’ and ‘Cracks’ offer some of the most painfully accurate depictions of both the dynamics between women, and between mothers and daughters, that I’ve read in a long time – the story ‘Cracks’ is also an account of domestic violence that I haven’t been able to shake. Chinese identity is another thread running through Clark’s collection, tying so many stories together in ways that feel truly fresh and insightful.
She Is Haunted is electrically original in both prose style and energy. Fans of inventive fiction such as Elizabeth Tan’s recent Readings Prize-winning Smart Ovens for Lonely People or Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties will find much to admire about She Is Haunted, but this collection will also resonate with anyone drawn to stories of identity and connection, especially female friendships and mother-daughter relationships. An absolute pleasure to read.