Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
Short Stories by Alissa Nutting
2010 / 188 Pages
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls has been on my radar since it was released in 2010, but I have finally gotten around to this collection, and now, one of my life’s biggest regrets is that I did not read Alissa Nutting sooner. I usually prefer novels to short stories, but these little vignettes are so unpredictable and distinctive that I found myself utterly entranced with wide-eyed curiosity and fear, unable to look away from the intensity and humor of Alissa Nutting’s bizarre and magnetic universe.
I know I know! At this point, I’m just gushing, but seriously, do yourself a favor and read this book. Some folks may find it disturbing and offensive, but the imagination behind each individual story is just so impressive and unprecedented that even the most conservative of readers should want to adopt Alissa Nutting as the new Dark Queen of the short story.
To give you an idea what to expect, the first story is told from the perspective of a young woman whose body has been stuffed with spices and herbs and is boiling alive in a pot of human soup. Later we meet a woman whose garden gnomes and lawn ornaments come to life every night and have long, passionate sex with each other. In another tale, a funeral home employee “occasionally smokes the hair of the embalmed dead” and somehow inhales their memories through this process. Later, a woman finds herself residing in Hell as Satan’s lover, surprised to learn that the underworld is not so bad after all (read excerpt here). These tales are just an absolutely random grab-bag of plotlines, settings, and genres. While some stories enter the realm of science fiction, others feel poetic and lyrical in the style of fairy tales or folk tales. Some of them resemble the disturbed world of Joyce Carol Oates or the quirky style of Miranda July, and others feel like they were born in the violent world of Quentin Tarantino. I also felt influences of Judy Budnitz, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Brautigan. Basically, everything you could ever want in a mischievous, voyeuristic, hilarious, and sadistic short story collection is here for the taking.
If you can help it, I’d advise you not to gorge yourself on these stories, as tempting as it may be to deliriously turn page after page far beyond the witching hour. The book’s pace brilliantly counteracts the consistent themes of obsession, over-consumption, and desperation. The characters here have such an intense need for human connection (or even subhuman connection) that they completely disregard the danger and tendency toward self-destruction that resides in each other and themselves. It’s hard to look away from Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, but you should at least glance up every now and then to remind yourself that this literary fever dream has not completely devoured your mind, body, and spirit even though each page pulses and throbs with the promise, tease, capture, and release of the taboo, the unknown, and the wickedly delectable.