A Manual for How To Love Us

Harper Perennial. Mar. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780063230880. pap. $17. F
DEBUT Following two poetry collections (including The Sorrow Festival), Slaughter offers a story collection that invites us to enter into strange and liminal spaces holding the simple, tense truth that to be human is an act of social acquiescence that contains a latent feral element within us all. Each voice is decidedly female, with the various incarnations revealing the inherent dangers, vulnerabilities, and strengths of living in a female body; the stories themselves refuse to judge actions society labels as risky, foolhardy, or wanton. These women heedlessly run away into the unknown, with girls living in carefully self-constructed worlds in order to survive, and wives and mothers navigating the treacherousness of everyday life—all beautifully realized examples of the shameless complexity of living. In addition to the delightfully tangled worlds Slaughter so compellingly creates, there is an added enjoyment in her elastic use of form. In the story “The Box,” large sections of the narrative are black, evoking a mute voice for an inanimate character, while a clever use of footnotes allows readers entry into internal thoughts. The title story uses short, prose poem–like fragments that read like some ancient artifact of folk-telling that never rings anachronistic.
VERDICT Slaughter admirably conveys a heightened awareness of how we harbor within our tamed lives an undeniable wildness.
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