There’s a fantastic passage in Meagan Lucas’s new collection of stories titled Here in the Dark (Shotgun Honey, 2023). A young boy can’t figure out what’s happened to one of his house cat’s tiny kittens, the runt of the litter, and his mother does her best to explain things:
“Well, Benny,” she took a deep breath. How was she supposed to explain the facts of life to a
six-year-old, when she barely understood them herself? “Sometimes, in a litter of kittens, there
is one that isn’t strong enough and the mama kitty abandons it, and we have to take that kitten
away so the others can thrive. You see, if that one is sick and can’t make it, it’s better for the
others if it goes away.”
The passage is rich with meaning for events in the dark story, but it also suggests some of the broader themes in this fine collection: abandonment, loss, and the trials of motherhood. It speaks to the sadness that issues from the ways people treat one another, but also to the familiar dysfunctional dynamics of the American family, and of the disproportionate share of the fallout that women in particular bear.
It’s a notable passage because Lucas’ collection is about women’s trauma. The stories involve the lives of mothers, daughters, wives, and lovers in rural and small-town settings. What’s so impressive is the way in which Lucas manages to write about the collective trauma of these women, their shared trials, even though the circumstances in which they live are so varied. Whether professional or unemployed, addicted or sober, gay or straight, the women of Lucas’ world share a common plight: They are women and, as such, often assume the burdens that men avoid, and endure the abuse that men deliver.
Happily, the collection is so artful, so clever and well-written, that one never thinks of it as a polemical work, as a collection with a political “message.” Instead, like any good work of art, the message emerges naturally from the craft, from the beauty of the writing.
In the story, “You Know What They Say About Karma,” Lucas writes of a working nurse, Brittney, a woman also tasked with the care of her young child, Jamie, in the wake of the father’s imprisonment. Of course, the story is so much more than that of a deadbeat dad and the frustrated mother who bears the brunt of the ill-conceived union. On some level, Brittney wants the relationship to work, wants the father, Kyle, to help in the care of their son. She also misses the intimacy—she’s been loyal while her man has been incarcerated--and desires the complete, functional family of her dreams. But on some level, she knows that it’s not to be. She’s seen too much of things; she knows better: “Single mom life. No one else to cook, or clean or get up with Jamie, unless like last night her mom took him. But that was really cause her mom didn’t trust Kyle. Never had. Probably never would. ‘Too much like your daddy,’ she said. ‘I thought you knew better.’”
It’s Lucas’ clever plotting, her twists and turns, and her masterful
use of little moments, kernels of truth contained in simple gestures—a word or two, a surprise line of dialogue, or an object itself—that
elevate the stories.