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Better Get Your Angel On – Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen’s Better Get Your Angel On (1989) is a shining example of Lish’s teachings, as they are both former notable students.  Allen’s stories are telegraphic, terse, violent, sexual, funny, and live in a Universe that does not exactly reflect the reality most people know. Many of these stories were first published in The Quarterly and StoryQuarterly.

Allen employs long first sentences that comprise the first paragraph of each story, and continue to do so from paragraph/sentence to the next.  She takes Lish’s desire for first sentences good enough to be etched on the writer’s gravestone to heart and creates a science of it; the opening paragraph of the first story, “Liberaton” is a good example:

This is the night of my lifetime I have been waiting for, for as long as before I was ever even alive to be here now in this two-seat, no-roof car with bare-chested Trip in the seat at the wheel beside me, calling me “My Amnesia Girl,” doing sixty, sixty-five, seventy down a bent-out-of-whack coastal cliff road, bump-pressed against the belt buckle of the Hitchhiker’s leather pants I have been sitting on since the last gas tank fill-up at the freeway detour off-ramp. (pp. 3-4)

The first sentence of “1987” reads:

It is New Year’s Day on the strand and I am watching a man who has blood on his face that looks to me like the blood is coming out of his eye give one, two, three kicks to the stomach of a woman who is on her knees in a puddle of sand under an outdoor shower that is on when a kid wearing a hat that says HAPPY NEW YEAR in glitter with palm trees sticking out of both sides slaps my ass and asks whose blood I think all that is messing up the sand, his or hers.  “Hard to say,” says I. “Nice hat.”  “Pilfered,” says the kid, “thanks,” and the kid slides a fat one from a palm tree, holds fat one with kid lips, tokes up by match. (pp. 32-33)

Publisher’s Weekly said this in a review:

Written in a variety of insistent, arresting voices that hurtle the reader through glimpses of hedonistic, drug-speeded-up lives, some of the 13 very short stories in this debut collection succeed on their technical brilliance and shock value. Too many of them, however, are mannered and pretentious, studded with artifice and obsessed with alienation. Allen’s stage set is a California strident with Day-Glo colors, slick with plastic values, vibrating with the menace of violence. Her characters are people you would never want to meet, in situations that reek with sleaze. Each of these short takes from the fast-lane begins with an attack sentence, the hallmark of Allen’s mentor, Gordon Lish. A few of these slices of life are perfectly pitched and constructed, such as “The Generals,” wherein the wife of an accident-prone football player reveals the cause of his incorrigible clumsiness, or “The Burnt,” in which the pace is as frantic as fire. But too many others are deliberately outrageous. The opening sentence of “1987” reads:”. . . I am watching a man who has blood on his face that looks to me like the blood is coming out of his eye give one, two, three kicks to the stomach of a woman who is on her knees in a puddle of sand. . . .” While Allen is a generously talented writer, one wishes her precocity had been shaped to better ends.

The back cover also sports a very sultry author photo (we will post later).

Allen’s father was George Allen, an NFL coach, and the daughter went from Lishette to sports writer with Fifth Quarter and working for ESPN.


One response »

  1. Pingback: Jennifer Allen – Bill Hayward « Gordon Lish Edited This

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