Synopses & Reviews
From the first story of Elizabeth McKenzie’s beguiling debut collection, we are drawn into the offbeat worldview of sharp-eyed, intrepid Ann Ransom. Stop That Girl
chronicles Ann’s colorful coming-of-age travails, from her childhood in a disjointed family through her tender adolescence and beyond.
In the captivating title story, our eight-year-old heroine is sent by her pregnant mother on a whirlwind jaunt to Europe with her iconoclast grandmother– known even to her family as Dr. Frost–and comes home to find her family completely reconfigured. In “SOS,” Dr. Frost returns to haunt Ann in college, her visit colliding with a famous poet’s appearance on campus. “We Know Where We Are, But Not Why” is set during a summer at the Grand Canyon and contrasts Ann’s angst-ridden yearning for a philosophical schoolmate back home to her mother’s happier pursuits of a lively Australian activist.
Along the way, Ann discovers the absurdities that lurk around every corner of a young woman’s life, by way of oafish neighbors, overzealous boyfriends, prurient vegetable salesmen, and sour landlords.
In these keenly funny, highly original stories, Ann and the people around her are forced to reassess their complex relationships and, along the way, find happiness on the brink of calamity. Stop That Girl is a brilliant examination of the exigencies of love and the fragile fabric of family, and heralds the emergence of a remarkable new voice in fiction.
"Makeshift families, ill-advised relationships and a series of nonhomes shape McKenzie's wry, clever debut, a novel in nine stories. The tidy world of Ann Ransom, a precocious eight-year-old, is turned upside down when her mother, Helen, marries real estate broker Roy Weeks in the book's title story, and Ann is briskly shuttled off for a holiday in Europe with her eccentric, emotionally exhausting grandmother, Dr. Frost. Ann weathers the shift and learns to appreciate likable Roy, but must cope with her mother's increasing reclusiveness. Eight years later, in the perfectly pitched 'We Know Where We Are but Not Why,' her mother finally experiments with happiness 'I use self-discipline to pick you up from school on time.... Why shouldn't I make myself be happy?' but the result is a disastrous summer vacation at the Grand Canyon. Ann gets the chance to escape her frustrating family in 'Look Out, Kids,' when the semi-apocryphal stories she tells a UC Santa Cruz financial aid officer convince him to give her a full scholarship. In the collection's gem, 'S.O.S,' Dr. Frost returns to haunt Ann in college, the visit coinciding with a campus appearance by Allen Ginsberg. Despite her desperate childhood desire for normalcy, as Ann grows up she finds herself leading an unconventional life that curiously mirrors her mother's. McKenzie's humor, Ann's touching bravado and the collection's subtle evocation of emotional undercurrents make this a poignant, incisive debut. Agent, Kimberly Witherspoon. (Feb. 15)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"From childhood to adolescence, from college to failed marriage, Ann tells us of her eventful life in a matter-of-fact, deadpan voice often wildly funny but just as often thoughtful and sad that will appeal to both adults and YAs." Michael Cart, Booklist
"[A]lthough Ann is sometimes baffled by the choices of her loved ones, she does her best to respect and honor them. This tendency, along with her humor, loyalty, and humility, makes Ann a completely likable character in a completely likable coming-of-age novel." Eleanor J. Bader, Library Journal
"A fine first book, alive with energy, wit, and real promise." Kirkus Reviews
This beguiling collection of prize-winning stories chronicles the colorful travails of Ann Ransom, from her childhood with her disjointed family through a tender adolescence and beyond.
About the Author
Elizabeth McKenzie's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Pushcart Prize XXV, Other Voices, Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, and ZYZZYVA . Her stories have been performed at Symphony Space in New York and Stories on Stage in Chicago, and recorded for NPR's "Selected Shorts." A former staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly, she lives in Santa Cruz, California.
Elizabeth McKenzie talks about her debut story collection
STOP THAT GIRL
How much of STOP THAT GIRL is autobiographical?
I think of Stop That Girl as an alternate universe, but parts did end up being pretty autobiographical. For some reason the image of Frankenstein’s monster comes to mind–a real arm here, a real leg there, but when sewn together, something “other” emerged.
This material seemed to demand a certain amount of attention to a past I knew. The matter came up of missing certain people and wanting to hear from them again. I’ll have to admit to a bit of grave robbing here.
I understand you actually met Allen Ginsberg, and that the real-life encounter was much like the one in the book. Can you tell us more?
In college a friend and I borrowed a hulking wreck of a car in order to drive Ginsberg around town and to Baba Ram Dass' (or was it Bagavan Das'?) house one night. I looked up to him as if he were the Abraham Lincoln of his time, and from the garbage-filled backseat this great voice was replying to all the naive questions we were battering him with.
And did you really find Bob Dylan's hose nozzle?
One night, my best friend Roberta and I did end up being shown around Bob Dylan's new house by a couple of carpenters finishing up the job. The nozzle ended up in my pocket. After awhile I started to feel kind of dumb about it. I doubted he had gone out and bought it himself. But I still liked it a lot, compared to other nozzles.
Ann has some very complicated relationships with the adults in her life, starting with her mother. Would you agree that the roles are reversed in this relationship?
Not exactly reversed, but certainly gnarled.
Dr. Frost, Ann's grandmother is a spectacular character. Definitely a bit troubled yet, at the same very attentive to Ann, --albeit in her own, misguided way. Can you explain this?
I've noticed that a lonely adult can often let down their guard with a child in a way that they can't with their peers, and this is the case with the relationship between Dr Frost and Ann. When I was a child, I often found myself hanging around with lonely adults who seemed to like talking to me. Naturally, this made me feel special and good, but whether or not they were models of mental health I don't know.
Is Dr. Frost based on someone from your life?
I have just begun to plumb the depths of the very strange person who was my grandmother--my Dr. Frost. A grandmother for me is not a warm and cozy grey haired being but a prickly snarling ball of mania and misguided schemes. The kind of person whose acquaintances take you aside and whisper, Call me if you ever need to talk.
One of the most dramatic scenes is the confrontation between Ann's mother and Dr. Frost after Dr. Frost Òkidnaps" Ann. What was the motivation behind writing this?
I was very interested in the aftermath of such an episode, no doubt in part because it mirrors an actual situation in my own family--after which, my mother and grandmother were out of touch for thirty years. It's amazing how years of fury can stay under control until one day something happens, such as this, and the whole relationship blows up, and there's no turning back.
What do you think caused the change in Ann's feelings toward her step-father, Roy Weeks? Is he more of a parent than Ann's own mother?
Roy wins Ann over through simple acts of kindness and honesty. It's no surprise that someone in his position can be more of a parent than an actual one. There are a lot of great non-parents out there, people who make a huge difference to people who need them.
Your work also carries with it a very strong sense of dislocation. Is this theme borrowed from your own experience?
Yes. A big theme in my own childhood was that we were always in the wrong place, and that we had to keep looking for the "right" place. It was hard to define what would be the right place. It had nothing to do with schools or job opportunities. "The neighbors" always seemed to have something to do with the problem. A mystery like this, something you don't really understand about your life, will keep you going as you write.
Do you think a certain California ethos infuses your work?
I'm not conscious of the California angle and wouldn't cultivate it. If I tried to, I think it would wreck everything.
It wasn't until I went to school for a year in a foreign country (which happened to be Australia), that I realized there was anything special about Los Angeles in the world’s view. There, I seemed to be an object of undue fascination, and kids were asking me questions about Hollywood and Disneyland and the Manson family. I admitted I didn’t know anyone in the Manson family, but that I had definitely been to Disneyland, and that Hollywood was not a single building but a whole town. I had a furry coat with big toggles on it that I'd been embarrassed of at home, but which everyone there seemed to think was extremely hip. Looking back, I realize that THEY were the hip ones. The kids I met there were much less cut from the mold.