- Unclean Jobs:Experimental Stories with Heart
Alissa Nutting's debut collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (2010), is a remarkable book by a writer who has since proven herself adept at documenting the range of humanity while at the same time giving us a funhouse mirror to better view our off-kilter selves. As Nutting herself said in remarks made at the 2013 AWP conference in Boston: "I write experimental fiction for the same reason I read experimental fiction...I want to see something I've never seen before, and go someplace beyond the limits of natural reality." This is something she does exceedingly well. I like weird fiction. I like fiction that takes risks, whether it's called experimental, absurdist, fabulist, postmodern, magical realism, slipstream, et al. That's the lit that speaks to me. I love her stories because as experimental as they get, as "out there" as they go, as weird as they are, one thing they all have in common is heart. Without heart you have no story, just empty words.
Her stories are gloriously weird. Take, for example, the first story in her collection, "Dinner." This opening salvo lets readers know right away what they're getting is not the usual story about people in a precarious situation...and it makes one think twice before ordering anything steamed. The weird continues with stories like "Ant Colony," exploring the idea of who has control in a relationship, the initial horror of letting go of that control, and of how men treat women. "Deliverywoman" explores this as well along with the pain of parental betrayal, the loss of naiveté and the plight of not having enough Galaxy Bars. In "Hellion," the delicate give-andtake that must exist inside of a relationship is examined, proving that relationships are hard in this life or the next one. In "Gardener," yearning for a relationship can cause magical things to happen and fulfill once-thought lost desires.
Alissa Nutting is funny as hell, too. All of her stories, like the best ones, are evocative, be it disgust, confusion, sadness, or love. But she can also make you laugh like a loon. Stories like "Zookeeper," "Porn Star," and "Dancing Rat" deliver some hilarious moments while at the same time giving you a sobering look at loneliness and loss. As she said in an interview with Steve Almond in The Rumpus from 2010: "The stories are funny and many have absurdist premises, but that's the (hopefully enjoyable) coating that makes the bitter pill go down a bit easier."
Sadly, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is out of print and copies on Amazon, eBay, and Abebooks are priced at exorbitant rates. With any luck, someone will nab the reprint rights and bless our benumbed and intellectually-starved world with this outstanding book once again. Until then know that your local library is your salvation and the interlibrary loan departments of most libraries are the angels in the architecture. Go forth and request this book and prepare to see your world very differently. [End Page 15]
William Householder resides in Knoxville with his wife, Laura, and their dog Zero.