A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST BY PEG ALFORD PURSELL
In Peg Alford Pursell’s newest flash story collection, A Girl Goes Into the Forest, the stories rarely exceed three pages but traverse a wide sphere of moments. A woman who’s just had a tumor removed kisses her husband’s brother, a man unknowingly wavers between the influence of two powerful women in his life, a musician struggles with her misogynistic father’s household authority, and a mother admits—after her daughter elopes with someone she just met—“I knew there was no stopping my girl from doing whatever hard thing she was determined to do.” Pursell links her stories by organizing them thematically around specific relationships (mother/daughter, husband/wife, etc.) and by framing them with quotations from Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. When read in conjunction, the stories create a stunning collage of the presence and the agency of women in the world. Birds in and out of stories. Characters echo the questions asked in the stories before them. Nameless fathers, mothers, brothers, and daughters drift dreamily in and out—until their voices begin to sound similar, like mirrored ripples of the original.
And Pursell captures a deep, collective yearning to know and be known by one another through her references to relationships, fairy tales, and performances of gender. Here, one story ends poignantly on such a longing: “Some creature is nearby, silent in the shadows. Where are you going, sister? it thinks, sending her the thought that makes her aware of a longing. The nameless yearning. Pioneers have always acted on those cravings. Ruts gouged in the pathways like grooves in the brain.”
—Review by Joy Clark