Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

[Book Review] Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls - Alissa Nutting - Cover Image
Cover Image
I had received this book in a discounted multi-pack of indie authors some years ago, and never got around to reading it until recently. It's a damn shame that I waited so long.

This collection of short fiction by Alissa Nutting runs the gamut from slice-of-life pieces to science fiction, but there is an emotional, almost-absurdist quality that runs beneath all of them. Occasionally morose, always darkly amusing, and full of hopeful nihilism, many of these tales made me feel as if I were reading the female counterpart of Chuck Palahniuk--and I mean that in the best possible way.

Dinner: Our narrator is being cooked in a kettle with five other people, and while this seems like a scene out of a vintage jungle adventure film, this is a very modern story of seeking comfort and connection from a very limited selection.

Model's Assistant: A frumpy nobody finds herself on the verge of being somebody when she befriends a beautiful fashion model. This was where I first started noticing the Palahniuk similarities, as this could easily be a chapter from one of his unfinished novels.

Porn Star: Presumably sometime in the future, reality show contestants compete to have sex with porn stars. Our narrator is one such celebrity whose back door has been promised to the winner...and it will take place on the moon. This story makes you feel sad, lonely, and definitely unclean.

Zookeeper: The shortest piece in the book is one of the most oddly moving. A zookeeper steals a baby panda from work and tries to hide it from the world.

Bandleader's Girlfriend: The longest story in the book and probably my least favorite. A rock star's girlfriend parades through life in a drugged up, sexed up, new age haze, a constant embarrassment to her straight-laced sister. A bit of bad news brings them closer together, however briefly.

Ant Colony: This bizarre story has its roots in drive-in flicks of the 1950s, and the opening paragraph will tell you everything you need to know: "When space on earth became very limited, it was declared all people had to host another organism on or inside their bodies. Many people chose something noninvasive, such as barnacles or wig-voles. Some women had breast operations that allowed them to accommodate small aquatic life within implants. But because I was already perfectly-breasted (and, admittedly, vain) I sought out a doctor who, for several thousands of dollars, drilled holes into my bones to make room for an ant colony."

Knife-Thrower: On the surface, this is an unorthodox ghost story, but in reality, it is a tale about loss and struggling to retain the memory of and keep connected with the dead.

Deliverywoman: An intergalactic delivery woman falls for a man online, shortly before coming into possession of her criminal mother's cryogenically frozen body. It's Catfish for the space age...only a little more over-the-top.

Corpse Smoker: This is a haunting love story that utilizes a gimmick very similar to an idea I had come up with myself a while back--reliving the memories of the dead via drug-like consumption of their remains. If I had to discover that someone else did it before I got around to it, I'm certainly glad that it was Nutting.

Cat Owner: If Cathy Guisewite's eponymous comic strip character was on the verge of being a crazy cat lady, was desperate for sexual intercourse, and fell head first into innovative fiction, this would be the result.

Teenager: A pregnant teenager does what she believes she must in order to save the relationship with her boyfriend, but it does not go as planned. A stark and bitterly realistic story that only a woman would have the balls to write.

Ice Melter: Our narrator here has quite a ludicrous job--melting down ice sculptures with a garden hose once the party is over. Offended by the subject matter of one such sculpture, she digs a hole for herself deeper and deeper.

Hellion: This fantastic and offbeat story (possibly my favorite in the collection) follows a husband-killer into hell, which really isn't as bad as you might suspect. Her breast size increases, she is allowed to drink (non-alcoholic) beer and ride on roller coasters, and she even has an illicit love affair with Satan, who almost seems like a decent sort. I will definitely be reading this one again.

Alcoholic: A woman attends a class reunion with her ex-boyfriend, leading to disastrous results. We're privy only to the aftermath, and it ends abruptly, leaving you to question both the past and the future of these two souls.

Gardener: This one is basically an erotic fairy tale, as an aging and unfulfilled woman falls for the virile garden gnome that comes to life at night. At first, she is content just to watch his wild sexual exploits, but before long she desires to feel his touch.

Dancing Rat: The costumed star of a children's television show is equally drawn to and repulsed by her bratty kiddy co-star, possibly the result of a barren womb or a ticking biological clock. Or maybe she just likes torturing herself. It's about discovering what you want out of life, and the ways you fool yourself when you discover that you can't have it.

She-Man: This is a tragic story of a transgendered person whose recently-assembled life comes crashing down when the truth of her past comes out. Although it comes off a bit arch at times, it is an all-too-believable account of lies, love and identity.

The Magician: Trying to help her disabled brother bring some lightness into his life, our narrator purchases him a brightly colored bird. The lightness, and the bird, are both gifts he does not want, however, and she realizes the damage done to him runs deeper than the flesh.

This is an absolutely emphatic BUY THIS BOOK.  I can not say it enough.


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