Title: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Author: Danielle Evans
Genre: Short stories
Rating: 4.5 / 5
I tend to forego short story collections. One of the reasons is that it is disorienting to read a book of short stories as you would a novel–especially with stories as powerful as the ones Danielle Evans has penned here. Instead of drawing the story out over several days, a reader can easily get through in a single sitting, creating a sort of whiplash. Even taking breathers in between them, to be immersed in stories with such fully realized characters containing such longing and then for it to end and read another so soon after… this book was emotional! I thought this collection was phenomenal. I liked every single story in it. Standouts for me were “Snakes,” “Robert E. Lee Is Dead,” and “Virgins.”
If you’ve heard about this book before, you probably know that race features heavily in it. But I was surprised at how well many of these stories capture something about growing up and being a person in the world and how hard that can be. They mostly all deal with people who are young, in their 20s or less. There are moments where whatever it is that comes after teen angst (new adult angst?) comes through, where a character will make big sweeping generalizations about life or their position in it, and I’m like “but you’re only 25!!!! you’re so young!!!” But it comes back to the title, which comes from a poem by Donna Kate Rushin: “I am sick / of having to remind you / to breathe / before you suffocate / your own fool self.” It is such a great line that can be widely applied to the characters in these stories.
Lots of the blurbs and reviews for this book mention that Danielle Evans is funny. And there are some moments that made me laugh out loud: “Chrissie pretends she wants to stay through the end of the folksinger. It’s the worst pretext ever: the folksinger is singing a song that’s about either a blow job or her psych medication, and she keeps wailing, You cannot make me swallow, and no one wants to listen to that.” There are definitely funny parts, but I would say the overall tone of this book felt darker to me. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, it just didn’t feel predominantly funny to me.
Anyway, I would definitely recommend it to those looking for a short story collection that deals with race, gender, and growing up. All the stories were well done and I can see myself revisiting them at a later date.