We’ve been trying to read stories from different places. As in, not The New Yorker, not The Best American Short Stories, not the O. Henry Prize Stories. So my friend randomly picked “Mannequin, Mannequin” from The Northville Review.
It reminds me a little bit of stories I used to read in university fiction workshops, ones that adopted a certain tone, that tried to be different. It succeeds, somewhat, in being different. Until the middle portion, that is, and then it culminates in a whine.
From the opening lines, I was intrigued. Where will we go with this, this pile of mannequins? But we don’t, in the end, go much of anywhere interesting. The story is nothing more than a vessel collecting striking images. But the characters themselves never break out of their archetypes: kooky mother (reminiscent of Adam’s sister Caroline on Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls); derisive, stubbornly self-motivated teenage daughter; selfish, runaway father.
The language, too, is highly stylized, sometimes grammatically troubled:
It’s not a desert town, but a town skirted between the oak-hairy mountains and dirty-blue ocean.
Hmm, “skirted between.” A little inexpert, a little homemade.
Later, when I read these lines, I knew I was going to be disappointed:
Sometimes she leaves the apartment and I’m alone with the mannequins and I don’t move a muscle because I think they just might come alive if I’m still enough. They’ll start blinking, tell me who they are, where they need to be going.
This marks the point in the story when Gardner’s imagination runs out of steam. I imagine her beginning with the deliciously absurd image in her mind of a room filled with mannequins. She creates the mother, the girl, the absent father vacationing indefinitely in Italy. And then she doesn’t know what to do with it, so she writes those lines. Maybe it’s not even that she has the girl wishing the mannequins alive that bothers me, but how she writes it: “I don’t move a muscle because I think they just might come alive if I’m still enough.” And then she adds insult to injury, “They’ll start blinking, tell me who they are…”
I have mixed feelings about the ending. At first I thought, Well, that’s not bad. That works. Another notable image, that of the narrator vindictively drowning the mannequins under her foot. Is it not somehow supposed to be a symbol of how she feels? Because her mother is screaming “no no no,” which is what she wishes she could scream, if she would only give herself a voice. After a moment’s reflection, however, I reconsidered. Even that is not so interesting. It’s not bad, but it’s not original either.
But I can see what my friend follows Gardner. She might indeed come up with something interesting and compelling. I’ve only, after all, read one story.