Lucy Corin, Everyday Psychokillers: a History for Girls, Fiction Collective 2, 2004

[Review Guidelines]

Why not start out by saying simply that this is a great book, a fully-imagined, poetic, textured effort? It's true—Lucy Corin's Everyday Psychokillers: a History for Girls is, first, unlike anything you've read. It's a novel, but it's got much more going on, as most good novels do: the informational edge of a study of psychokillers, an exploration of their mythology and the mythology of psychokillers v. girls (and their inevitable linkage); it's a meditation on the idea of psychokillers (the word begins to gather energy in the novel as we go, as it is repeated, worried between Corin's fingers, constantly there in the character's mind, like a perpetual echo. It's got sidetracks into Egyptian mythology, too, but the book is primarily downright beautiful and fun—hilarious, fucked-up, and excellent. The main job of novels is to entertain, and thus this one does. And does a lot more. It's probably a disservice to claim this novel as some sort of feminist art, and I think Corin herself would not encourage this, because it's got a lot more going on than that, and it's certainly not particularly empowering, thank god, but there is an attention to the situation of girls: as suggested in the title, this is a history (including the factual burden that always rides along) for girls. And there's lots to that herein. But first, again, it is great fiction.
      What blows me away is the quality of Corin's sentences. This is probably what makes it an FC2 book. The narrative qualities are certainly more straightforward than what we would expect from FC2: it's not one of these dense experimental texts (not to critique—we like dense experimental texts). But the intensity and care of at the sentence level makes the book a project, something with some real fucking action, something special. There's a huge attention hovering above the language—a pressure over it—that is highly pleasing. Sometimes it manifests itself in highly lyric, linguistic moments:

Also Bertha. What a terrible name, tragic. It instructs. It says give her a wide girth and a wide berth from birth. Bertha kept six parrots in cages, two by two in her bay window. What else could she do? Her frazzled hair, her bated breath.

And sometimes it comes out through the associative logic of lists:

Black Widows and Bluebeards and Baby Farmers. Mad Bombers, mad scientists, mad this or that. This or that monster. Freeway Murderers and Highway Killers. Nightstalkers. Voyeurs. Slayers. Devils and Demons. Jason, Chucky, Freddy, the supernatural ones without the superhero names. This odd form of understatement.

You can see here on display a small helping of social commentary, which is unfair, except that this element of critique is more a sustained attention to these ideas, and this is a function of the main character's voice and qualities of mind. Everyday Psychokillers doesn't read like a critique or anything over-theoried-so-it-becomes-a-ruined-shell; but it does work constantly as a meditation, going over and over itself, inscribing something.
      Which is worth nothing unless it's interesting, exciting, surprising. Thus Corin delivers.
The critique and linguistic elements are probably why the book didn't get as much press as it deserved when it came out, which is sad. Let this be a tiny balm for Corin and for the book. It is an impressive novel: incisive, beautiful, pathological at times, and very dark. There's this huge dark hurt throughout the whole book, this big-ass twist on the subject matter that serves as an excellent defense against sentimentality. Believe me, that bomb is defused on the first page, in the book's prelude, a shot across our bow:

In the life of every girl I know, at one time or another, in school, in a museum, she's shown a replica of the Venus de Milo. For some girls, Venus is a translucent projection, for some a plaster doll. The girl stands near the statue with her best friend, and somebody is explaining how Venus is so beautiful, and how, to this very day, she's the most beautiful woman in myth and history combined, that she is beauty and love...
      "Someone's knocked off her arms," the girl says to her friend.
      "I could do that," says Rapunzel [the other girl].

We figure out really early on that this story is going to be different. It's much darker, often hilariously so, almost reveling in it, but Corin generally walks this high-wire well, not caving to one side or the other, staying complicated, and you can't just say that it's a send-up, or it's macabre, or it's just grotesque, or it's depressing. It is all of these and more. It is serious and beautiful:

Cutting her. I think of a great blade slicing asphalt, and swamp water, thick with silt, rising through. Dissecting her, arranging her, preparing her. Codifying her. They're civilizing her.

And it is at times a sort of lamentation, too:

Sometimes I think I can hear girls calling to one another over great distances, across dead air, separated by these barbed wire fences and the plastic walls of their parents' homes. I see them clinging to the stray boards of a shipwreck, bobbing and gurgling in the dark waves.

It also plays with the ideas of place and landscape, of mapping things out in constellations to understand them, an idea near and dear to our hearts:

If you stuck each of us on a corkboard, a diagram of Scott and a diagram of me, and then stuck us with pins to mark our body parts and attributes, and graphed a timeline of each little history, I'm sure it'd be easy to see that in our promise we'd fail, that I'd fail him, and he'd fail me, that the whole arrangement was from a soap opera anyway. I don't know, it seems like we knew we'd fail, that we knew we were playing, and when we got earnest in our play, that was why.

And in the end it plays as a kind of awesome tragedy. It's difficult to disengage from—there is the usual sort of dread that we feel as we feel the right hand stack of pages dwindling: we know the book is slowly ending, that our time with it is limited, and we are wondering what it all will come to. And there is a sense of expectation—all this built-up violence must be accruing somewhere, and it does pay off, and thankfully not in the way that you expect, and then we're out of pages, returned to the world, and all alone again in it.