McSweeney’s, McSweeney’s Field Recordings Volume 3
Six McSweeneys short stories deftly capture the magic and brutality of coming of age
Cigarettes are cool. Bullies are petrifying. Adults just don’t get it. The third installment of McSweeney’s Field Recordings features young protagonists who subscribe to these perennial pubescent tropes. But for some kids, there comes a time when your worldview expands beyond pop quizzes and school dances and football games. A particular incident or decision or maybe even a simple conversation can somehow determine what kind of person you’ll grow to become. Narrated from various outdoor locations by authors who deftly channel their inner adolescents, these six stories — all of which originally appeared in McSweeney’s literary magazine — capture these life-defining moments with an intensity and candor that would make Judy Blume blush.
The collection kicks off with K. Kvashay Boyle’s sweet portrayal of a self-proclaimed “brainy dweeb” who desperately wants to fit in. In “St. Chola,” the bubbly but insecure teenager must reconcile how to wear American staples like scrunchies and Bongo jeans along with a hijab, the traditional Muslim head cover. Stephen Elliott’s story follows with a jolt of ferocity and fury: “Forefathers” takes place in a claustrophobic juvenile hall visiting room, as a former inmate returns to talk some sense into a cocky 13-year-old who’s on a similarly destructive path. The most squirm-inducing story of the bunch is “The Neutered Bulldog,” Rachel Sherman’s creepily intimate depiction of a charismatic teacher whose relationship with her two prize pupils crosses all kinds of boundaries and wreaks havoc on their young lives. Peter Orner also takes on the loss of innocence in “Pampkin’s Lament,” in which a boy overhears his father consoling a baffled politician who has just found out that his wife is in love with another man. The story is funny and devastating at the same time, just like adolescence itself. It’s the perfect conclusion for this gut-wrenching collection that captures both the magic and brutality of coming of age. McSweeney’s liner notes for Field Recordings are available as a .pdf here.