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Monday, September 3, 2012

Stacey Richter: "Beauty Treatment" & "The Cavemen in the Hedges"


Guest Post by Chris Hooker
Stacey Richter, and these two stories, are both awesome. In fact, her entire collection of short stories -- "My Date With Satan" -- is a book I urge all of you to pick up if you enjoyed these selections.

Richter writes with a voice that is just plain fascinating. She has the ability to turn abstract and bizarre scenarios into real-life moments that a reader can clearly picture. My favorite of these two "The Cavemen in the Hedges" is one of the most memorable stories I've read, a unique and fascinating portrayal of the downfall of a relationship during times when "cavemen" rome the world. There is never a dull moment in a Richter story.

In the comments of this post, talk about what you loved, or maybe didn't love, in Richter's stories. One thing I think we will all agree on is that these stories are weird. Whether or not they are too weird for your liking is to be seen, but I'd be shocked if they were. But, that's just me. 

15 comments:

  1. I agree with Chris. Stacey Richter is fantastic and it’s true there is never a dull moment in her stories, which might sound obvious (shouldn’t every story be this driven?) but I know I’ve had trouble spots in my own stories where the momentum gets stuck. This is something that Richter has taught me and I hope to write with her kind of momentum. What I love about her stories, besides the action and bizarreness, is how well she is able to connect the strange happenstance of the story’s world to the human relationships carrying on within it. In “The Beauty Treatment”, we see that the narrator lives in such a materialistic and dramatic lifestyle it’s bizarre merely in itself. But then the narrator tells us about her background with ‘The Bitch’ and we see it’s much more complicated than one best friend lashing out against another.
    In one way it’s about their inability to see much past ‘the accident’ or ‘the beauty treatment’, even though the narrator tries to show how the scar makes her look ‘like a rakish movie star’ and how she’s trying to move past it to work in criminal law, as readers we can see beyond this. Richter does narrative voice so incredibly well and as a result the narrator often thinks he or she knows what’s going on better than anyone else. Her narrators have bravado, and certain assumptions about how their lives should go. The narrator of ‘The Cavemen in the Hedges’ is this way too, assuming he knows his wife better than she knows herself, saying “It’s inconceivable that this effort won’t be rewarded. Plus, I know her. She lives for this. This is exactly what she wants” when only moments later she leaves him forever, towards what we hope is the direction she wants, cavemen or not.

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  2. Richtor’s stories captured me the moment I began reading them. Her characters seem to come alive and jump off the page in the very first sentences. The voices of the narrators are very strange and wild, yet at the same time because of how particular they were it seemed to me like they could be sitting next to me right now, telling me a story about how they had a fight with their best friend or how their girlfriend left me. Both stories at their core are very simple, but Richtor manages to complicate them and create something totally new through her use of characterization, plot and attention to detail. While the stories were weird, in a way because of the strength of the narrator’s voice and how clearly I could picture every detail, they became familiar to me. I buy the fact that the narrator’s best friend would scar her permanently for liking a musician, or the fact that the narrator’s girlfriend left him for a caveman. Even though at first glance they seem unrealistic and fantastical, I believe that they happened- at least in the context of the story.
    I also love how much the narrator’s ‘accidentally’ reveal about themselves during the course of the story. Both narrators are brutally honest with us about others in their world, and to an extent themselves. The narrator from “Beauty Treatment” has no problems telling us she is materialistic, which Richtor then shows us through her obsession with clothes and things. However, through the course of the text we also come to learn that she desperately wants her life to be something bigger and grander than it is. When she describes her future, it sounds like something out of a lifetime movie. When sitting with the Neo-Beats, she describes herself as a mysterious figure, making herself the center of attention. When people ask her about her scar she concocts wild, attention grabbing stories- as if the truth of how it happened wasn’t wild enough. This desire is eventually revealed when she states her reason for hanging around the Bitch for so long despite her obvious mental health problems, and why she became best friends with her in the first place.

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  3. So, these stories are crazy, but I love them. Richter has this attention to detail that makes the stories not really seem like written stories, but, as Fran said, very believable. What I love most is the fact that she doesn't feel the need to give information that most stories give, for example, having a character with the name "the Bitch" without giving her a real name until the shrink mentions it. To me, this is great, because I feel like I'm legit in the narrator's head. Her entire ordeal isn't rationalized or trying to come to a solution, but it's just the way it is. We are in her head, seeing the ups and downs of her realization of the scar, and of losing her best friend.
    "The Cavemen in the Hedges" is the one that really got me. It is such a simple concept that completely alters the lives of everyone. The fact that a caveman broke a ten-year relationship, and that the presence of the cavemen rattled people so much, was a hard concept to grasp, yet Richter somehow made it easy. I loved that the dialogue slowly went from Kim doing most of the talking to the narrator, showing his indifference in the beginning to her, and ultimately her indifference toward him at the end. The shift in power was, at least to me, gradual and subtle, but still present, and that also helped to make the story more believable. I think that the way Richter portrays her characters, in both stories, is phenomenal and helpful in showing how dialogue and characterization can progress.

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  4. These two short stories were really entertaining to read on many levels. They exemplify what it means for a story to be character driven on all levels. The first story you aren't even made aware of the first characters name until the psychologist says it out loud. For me a person who doesn't have a lot of experience writing its good to read something so character driven as a learning experience.
    In the second story seeing how a character voice works also was a learning experience. There is a shift from first to second person and seeing how that worked was inspiring and something I would like to work on. So to see it be done is a great example of how to do it.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading both of Richter’s stories.“Beauty Treatment” and the “Caveman in the Hedges” had great opening sentences that were attention grabbing, and made me curious to continue reading.
    For example, in “Beauty Treatment”, Richter opens with “She smiled when she saw me coming, the Bitch, she smiled and stuck her fingers in her mouth like she was plucking gum out of her dental work.” This line immediately introduces the reader to tension between two characters with the actions of the Bitch, and the strong emotional language of the narrator referring to another character as “the Bitch.”

    “The Cavemen in the Hedges” begins with the sentence, “There are cavemen in the hedges again.” This line introduces the reader to a strange world, but Richter does a good job of making the world believable by later showing how the cavemen change the lives of the narrator and his girlfriend.

    Although I don’t think Richter aimed to make the narrator in either story particularly likeable, I found myself caring about each narrator, and even pitying them. For example, Richter created more depth to the narrator in “The Cavemen in the Hedges” by showing how he began to act the way his girlfriend, Kim, wanted him to behave, but it was too late. This made me feel sorry for the narrator, and made their break up more emotional.

    I thought that “Beauty Treatment” included a lot of great dialogue, which made the narrator believable. Richter was able to show the narrator’s teenage voice in lines such as “I know because her mom and my mom are friends, though I must say the relationship is oh, a bit strained.” This dialogue includes sarcasm and bitterness, which clues the reader in that the narrator is young.

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  6. The concept of writing a short story has always been hard for me to understand. Really I think it’s just the fact that I would need to find a subject and character and plot for my readers to hold on to, with a certain amount of pages to use. That’s extremely intimidating. Reading Stacey Richter’s work though, reminds me that short stories are so enjoyably. I’ve always turned to novels if I wanted to immerse myself into a different world. This coming from my theory that a short story wont let me in long enough to even want to stay. However over the years I have learned that with short stories that is not the case at all. Richter lets her readers in and keeps their attention quite well. In “Beauty Treatment”, we are right away tossed into the whirlwind of the narrator’s thoughts. Her voice is strong and vivid. We are in her head and we are able to see her judge herself, question the situation, and even start to accept her life and her friendship for what it is.

    In “The cavemen in the Hedges” Richter not only presents us again with a strong narrator, but I would also like to think she’s using their voice to paint a bigger picture of the core meaning of the story. Just looking at the title of “The Cavemen in the Hedges” I would honestly probably never pick it up and read it. Really cavemen? It’s just not my thing. However, Richter is able to tell this story in such a way that I immediately am inside of it and believing it. The society that the narrator lives in with his girlfriend is terrified of the Cavemen, and yet when they leave, they want them back. I think Richter points out that we have to make ourselves happy and as a society we can’t depend on other to do so.

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  7. I’m in agreement that both of these stories are very strange, but not to the point that I was unable to suspend by disbelief enough to get into the stories. I loved the point of view that “Beauty Treatment” was coming from (actually “The Caveman in the Hedges” too) because Richter was giving us a very one-sided point of view, which I liked. That being said, I think Richter characterized these girls very well. The view of the main character is very biased because it is from her point of view, so we get a good idea of her personality as well as how she views the Bitch. The ending felt kind of cut short for me, though. Maybe that’s because I was really into the story and I turned the page and it was over and I was disappointed, but I felt as if I wanted more.
    I loved “The Caveman in the Hedges” probably because it felt so real and believable. I also really enjoyed the narrator of this story as well as the plot. Together, they both led up to a sort of shocking ending. Richter sort of gave away the point that Kim was spending time with a caveman rather than her boyfriend, but she does not warn us that he is going to propose at the end. This is all that she has wanted throughout the entire story and, suddenly, she gets what she assumingly wants, all too late, and doesn’t want it anymore. It was a great twist for me.

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  8. Author Stacey Richter has a knack for creating a story and telling it such an interesting way. She does a great job in presenting details and revealing things about the characters to the audience. I admit that I struggled I little to find the underlying plot of the stories, but after continuing through them everything became a lot clearer. While at many times they seem abstract, Richter manages to keep you hunting for the answer.

    Out of the two of them my favorite was “The Beauty Treatment.” At first I thought the story would be about some preppy girl clashing with “the Bitch” or the Queen Bee. But when the narrator revealed that the Bitch was once her best friend, I wanted to find out what happened between them. I also thought that by just referring to her as the Bitch, the narrator continues to display her anger towards her ex-best friend. The descriptions and imagery she provides throughout the story are also very interesting, but I think they made me pay even closer attention.

    The other story, "The Cavemen in the Hedges," was a little harder for me to understand. I wasn't quite sure what the "cavemen" were supposed to represent. However, Richter does a good job in showing how their presence affects the relationship of the main characters. Again, Richter excels in her descriptions and the characterization of the main couple as they go through the small struggles in their relationship.

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  9. I think "The Cavemen in the Hedges" was my favorite of her two stories. It's just so ridiculous a topic, but she makes the story believable and relatable by focusing the story around the relationship problems of the two main characters. The cavemen are a crucial detail, but the story does not entirely revolve around them.

    I also liked "The Beauty Treatment" and the characterization in that story. To essentially name a character The Bitch is not only funny, but it also tells the reader how the narrator thinks of her without the narrator having to come out and explain it. We already know the narrator feels negatively towards her just after hearing her "name." I also liked how the story started right in the middle and then went back to explain. It got me interested in the rest of the story and was just a great way of starting.

    I definitely admire the way Richter portrays her characters and I enjoyed reading her stories. I just might go and pick up her book eventually after reading these. I like the way she lets the reader discover details of the plot on their own without coming out and giving them to us, which would probably be tempting with such abnormal plots. So, overall, I really enjoyed her writing.

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  10. What I really like about these stories is how Richter makes characters out of other characters or events. In The Beauty Treatment, “The Bitch” refers to the narrator’s ex-best friend, “The Accident” to her getting her face sliced, “The Shrink” to the therapist. In The Cavemen in the Hedges, “The Look” is the glare that Kim gives her husband. I think by giving these names, readers can better identify with the story. Instead of saying “Kim looked at me and I knew she was upset that I didn’t ask her to marry me yet…” Richter writes on page 576 “She shoots me The Look…” and immediately we as readers can picture a more vivid image.
    Also, in The Cavemen in the Hedges, Richter has the husband finally make a desperate move to ask Kim to marry him in hopes that they can go back to the life they were living before the cavemen. He thinks he knows what her response will be: “… I know her. She lives for this. This is exactly what she wants.” Burroway writes that it is way more interesting to have the characters say “no” than to simply agree. In other words here, Richter lets Kim react in her own way instead of responding in a way that might be expected (that Kim would say “yes” to marriage). At this point in the story, Kim no longer wants a normal life, and Richter sticks to clever writing techniques in order to not let go of her readers.

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  11. I thought Richter’s writing was fantastic. Mainly because I’ve never read anything like her work before, I believe it’s extremely unique. “Beauty Treatment” interested me more than “The Cavemen in the Hedges.” I believe I was so interested by “Beauty Treatment” because of the way it was written. The narrator tells the whole story as though she’s talking to us personally. It’s got a flow of thoughts and consciousness that makes me feel as though she is telling me that her old best friend cut her face up and took away her beauty, etc. I almost feel a little sympathetic for a character that has grown up getting everything she has wanted, and you can definitely feel more emotional towards a character that is up in your face and talking to you.
    “The Cavemen in the Hedges” was extremely clever. I believe that I have very imaginative ideas sometimes, but I would have never thought to place cavemen in the modern world. The idea that our narrator (whose name I don’t believe we ever learn) loses his girlfriend to a caveman and the cavemen lifestyle is out of this world. While I don’t believe I could ever do that, I can see why someone would put their selves in this situation. I feel terribly bad for our narrator who loses his girlfriend to a caveman. But in the end, I agree that this writing if unique and spectacular.

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  12. "The Beauty Treatment" is a roller coaster. I was drawn in from the first sentence and felt like I was hurtling through the story. It seems so immediate -- with so much action -- that when I went back through it, I was surprised not to see more dialogue.
    On the other hand, I had to force myself through "Cavemen" because it seemed slow and distant in comparison. I wonder if I might have liked it better if I'd read the two stories in the opposite order.

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  13. I personally really enjoyed both of the Richter readings and as I can tell from some of the above comments I read that some of my classmates did as well. What I liked about her style of writing was how she was able to take something unrealistic like cavemen walking this Earth again and draw me in to the point in which I wished I knew what it felt like to be the main characters in the story. I did not necessarily understand why they were scared of the cavemen because she described them as though they weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, but I did understand that there was a sense of fear for those experiencing it because it is something unusual and in many ways crazy to think of ever actually happening in real life.

    Richter's ability to describe her characters with their dialogue, thoughts and actions was something in which I really respect and enjoyed because it's not every day you get to read an author with such great skills when it comes to narrating a story. In the short story "The Beauty Treatment," I like how Richter described the main character in such detail by using her inner thoughts and actions. For example, in one section of the story she is discussing how she thinks the therapy session would go and I thought to myself is she looking for pity from the therapist or is she really just looking to get vengeance upon "The Bitch" by throwing it in her face that she will look "like a rakish movie star" for the rest of her life?

    Overall, I loved Richter's style of writing and the topics in which she wrote about because she was able to get into the minds of the main characters and express human feelings in which oftentimes can get overlooked by other authors. By doing just that she was able to make me feel like I was a onlooker in the stories as everything was going on.

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  14. One thing that particularly stands out to me about Richter's writing is her use of detail. In both of these stories, certain details are vivid while other are not so much. However, I never felt a desire for her to clarify things as I liked that we are able to truly visualize things through both narrators. Especially in the “Cavemen in the Hedges,” we are able to see how the narrator's lack of motivation and determination is what ultimately lets his relationship fall apart. In a sense we are given snap shots of these peoples' lives and how they develop over the course of these short stories. I like how in the first story we are given small details about the friendship between the narrator and “The Bitch” which is enough. It's very abstract at times but we are given everything we need to comprehend what the story is truly about.
    I, for one, find short stories to be a somewhat difficult challenge. It can be hard to make an entire story fit into a certain number of pages, and on top of that it is hard to know what to include and what to leave it. This is where Richter truly succeeds in my eyes. In both stories, I was able to see things clearly yet we are only given so much about the characters and the world. I really love how in the cavemen story, the cavemen are not what drive the story. We are only given some information about them which is believable and makes it more fascinating. I certainly agree that Richter has a weird style of writing, but that is definitely not a criticism. Her stories express the depths of humanity and create relationships and circumstances that are very true to real life.

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  15. These stories were amazing. Richter seems incredibly good at developing one character through the eyes of another. In the first story, we learn almost everything about "The Bitch" through our narrator's memories and thoughts. In "Cavemen in the Hedges," we learn almost everything about the narrator's partner through his thoughts. It's a cool way to do character development, and I don't feel for a second as if I know the characters any less well because of it.

    "Cavemen in the Hedges" is another one of those stories where I feel certain there is some underlying meaning that has flown over my head. I come away from it knowing I have read a good story, and that it made me feel different emotions throughout, but I have no idea what it is actually supposed to mean, if anything. That's not to say I don't feel immersed in the world though. I do. Richter's judicious use of detail highlights all the important bits of the world she creates that allow me to slip in with no problem, and she leaves out all the material that could have bogged down the progression of the story.

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