Trailer Girl and Other Stories


"I talk like a lady who knows what she wants" is how the vagrant begins her story in "Trailer Girl". As she struggles to rescue what she says is a wild girl hiding in the gully, the neighbors become more certain than ever that the child is imaginary—until there's a murder. Stark and disturbing, "Trailer Girl" is the story of cycles of child abuse and the dream to escape them.

In "Psychic," a clairvoyant knows she's been hired by a murderer, in "Leadership" a tiny spaceship lands between a boy and his parents, in ...

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"I talk like a lady who knows what she wants" is how the vagrant begins her story in "Trailer Girl". As she struggles to rescue what she says is a wild girl hiding in the gully, the neighbors become more certain than ever that the child is imaginary—until there's a murder. Stark and disturbing, "Trailer Girl" is the story of cycles of child abuse and the dream to escape them.

In "Psychic," a clairvoyant knows she's been hired by a murderer, in "Leadership" a tiny spaceship lands between a boy and his parents, in "Venice," a woman performs the Heimlich maneuver on an ex-husband, then flees by gondola, and in "White," a grandfather explains to his grandson how a family is like a collection of chicken parts. Frequently violent, always passionate, these often short short stories are full-strength, as strong and precise as poetry.

About the Author:
Terese Svoboda's Cannibal was selected by Spin magazine as one of the ten best novels of 1994, and was hailed as a "women's 'Heart of Darkness'" by Vogue. Svoboda is also the author of the 1999 novel A Drink Called Paradise, and three books of poetry, All Aberration, Laughing Africa, and Mere Mortals. She lives with her family in New York City.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Svoboda's haunting new collection of fifteen short stories and one novella is not for the faint-hearted. In the creepy story "Sundress," a couple moves into the house of vacationing strangers, claiming to be cousins of the homeowners. The couple, who befriend the neighbors, only leave after the startled homeowners return and force them to move on. In the eerie story "Psychic," the boyfriend and relatives of a missing young woman turn to a clairvoyant for help. Not only does the psychic know that the boyfriend murdered the young woman, she also senses that he'll come back on his own, for a private visit just with her. Not all the stories are this unsettling, though. In one tale, a routine visit to a restaurant takes an unexpected turn, resulting in a scary yet hilarious twist that leads into the mysterious novella "What Did You Bring Me?" The novella, which consists of thirty-one short chapters, some of which are no more than one or two paragraphs in length, tells the story of a nameless woman who lives in a trailer park and meets a wild girl living in a nearby gully. Disturbing, edgy and provocative, this collection will appeal to lovers of nontraditional prose.
—Ann Collette

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the title novella of this collection of 14 otherwise short-short stories, Svoboda (Cannibal) tells the tale of a nameless woman, a survivor of foster homes and abuse. After a number of stays in mental institutions, she now lives in a filthy trailer park peopled by dropouts who are every bit as damaged as she is. The woman believes there is a wild child living in a gully near the trailer park but is this really true? Svoboda tends toward obfuscation and the reader is often left mystified, but the overall effect is compelling. Characters in the short stories really more like prose poems are shadowy personages difficult to pin down. The first story, "Sundress," is a prologue to the novella, in which a nameless girl and a creepy boy named Ernie move into a house by pretending to be relatives of the vacationing owners. "Polio" features a sitter who invents a game called chute: she drops a baby down a laundry chute and lets her other charges follow. Most interesting of the short pieces is "Psychic," in which a clairvoyant woman realizes she has been hired by a murderer, and uses her knowledge to wring a few extra dollars out of him. The language throughout is at once potent and oblique Svoboda has published three books of poetry and thus the allure lies less in the situations than in their strange telling. (Mar. 1) Forecast: Svoboda, sounding here like a cross between William S. Burroughs and Dorothy Allison, has been lauded in edgier venues like Spin and the Village Voice. While this may not be a mainstream hit, she could find an audience of more adventurous readers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It is hard to digest this much Svoboda (Cannibal, A Drink Called Paradise) in one sitting. Her poetic language is spare, disjointed, confusing, brilliant, and piercing, but her angst-filled tales are neither pleasant nor pretty. Hers is a dark world of vagrancy, abuse, drug addiction, and alcoholism, containing a litany of life's losers and wounded. For all the sometimes lovely images and unique turns of phrase, this is an acquired taste. The most accessible story of the collection's 15 stories is the bittersweet "Sundress," in which two elderly lost souls, unloved former foster children, spend their days searching for vacant homes in which they can pretend to play house for brief, blissful periods. "Trailer Girl," the linchpin novella, is overflowing with cruelty and hurt. The fates of brutalized, sexually abused Kate, her battered baby brother, and the little lost wild girl, elusive as a feral animal, haunt the story's fragile narrator, the Trash Lady, who feels their pain as if it were her own. This powerful cutting-edge literary fiction is recommended for specialized collections.--Jo Manning, Barry Univ., Miami Shores, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
New York Times Book Review

Trailer Girl has the surreal poetry of a nightmare. . . . Svoboda has written a book of genuine grace and beauty.”—New York Times Book Review
Vanity Fair

“Unnerve thyself: the violent and enthralling short stories in Terese Svoboda’s Trailer Girl detonate on contact.”—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
San Francisco Chronicle

“The kind of satisfaction that one gets from [Svoboda’s] stories is quick and blinding, governed more by instinct than reason.”—Francie Lin, San Francisco Chronicle
Women's Review of Books

“You have to listen, carefully, to Terese Svoboda’s stories. You have to read them slowly, more than once, sounding the words this way and that, letting yourself interpret, not with logic alone, but using the tools of poetry–association, juxtaposition, metaphor. Even what’s left out can be significant. For these are not so much stories in the traditional sense as tangled situations, networks of convoluted yet precisely controlled language. And you don’t read through them, but into them, going deeper each time.”—Women’s Review of Books
Andrew's Book Club
"Frequently violent, always passionate, these often short short stories are not the condensed versions of longer works but are full-strength, as strong and precise as poetry."

— Andrew Scott, Andrew's Book Club

Feminist Review

"Written in the style of dreamy prose poems about the alienated and edgy lives of the walking wounded, these stories shimmer and dazzle with an intensity that sometimes creates the feeling of the world as a floating, melting cloud of illusion."—Cheryl Reeves, Feminist Review

— Cheryl Reeves

Feminist Review - Cheryl Reeves

"Written in the style of dreamy prose poems about the alienated and edgy lives of the walking wounded, these stories shimmer and dazzle with an intensity that sometimes creates the feeling of the world as a floating, melting cloud of illusion."—Cheryl Reeves, Feminist Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582430850
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Terese Svoboda is the author of five volumes of poetry and four novels, including Tin God (Nebraska 2006), and, most recently, a nonfiction book, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI’s Secret from Postwar Japan, winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize. In 2006 she won an O. Henry Award for her short story “80’s Lilies.”
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I talk like a lady who knows what she wants, and other things which I would mention but Ernie's charging over here with kids behind, screaming like they are chasing him and not vice versa and him whipping a cut aerial like a wild man.

    I get the tea instead.

    My hands hold the tea and a can and an opener as I make my way backward, rear first, out the front end and down the cinderblock pile that is my stair. I heap it all onto my card table and yell, What's the story?

    Ernie is huffing and puffing all the way down my trailerside and the aerial is bowing for or against me. I duck.

    Those kids, he says, and almost gets one.

    But they disappear. There's no thin air around here, but kids have a way with the edges of things. By the time Ernie's huffed and puffed his buttoned-down self across the four corners of my frontage, they've high-tailed it, they've gone.

    See this? They broke it off, clean off the front. It's not that the truck was ever going to win any fancy costume contest or even turn over again, but to take the aerial——

    Tea? I ask, being that the water I got going on the card table is boiling away and I do want a drop before it's gone.

    No, thank you, he says. Then he says, Why don't you get the fence barb clean, that's what you're here for. But not nasty, no, just in a kind of drone that he goes into when being the guy-in-charge comes over him and he has to say something, especially when his first something doesn't mount up the way itshould, given his position, and the kids and theirs, and the aerial now down.

    I think out my answer so I don't snap back at his backhanded harping. I will clean the fence on Tuesday, I say, and I put my already-used-three-times tea bag into my cup and pour the hot water all over it, missing with some, drenching the dirt, why I keep my table outside in the first place. Is Tuesday okay?

    Tuesday is soon I guess, he says, and he walks right up to the fence and pokes at the barb with the aerial. Nothing of the stuff stuck to it comes off but he keeps on poking.

    I open my can a turn and four cats show. Want some? I say to Ernie instead of to the cats or me, which is who this is for, a nice hot catfood lunch in a pot on a hotplate.

    Ernie sees the tossed can and his nose wrinkles his whole face. Instead of saying, he produces what? from his back pants pocket, from under that buttoned flap men sometimes get there, he produces a wad all stapled together of tickets. Tuesday is when these are due, he says, and he flattens the wad on my table, smiles up at me with my tea in front of my catfood cooking. How about a chance?

    I sip. Behind me tacked to the jigged-open front flap of a door hang plenty of chances, some for girl scouts, some for jamborees, some just chances taken like a turn at the slot machine—for anybody or thing.

    I shoo the cat that's pawing the pot. Do I have to be present?

    They say no but it never hurts. It's only in town, for the clinic in town. You know these places, they need these things to keep on with what they do do.

     I know these places, I say. I look around my breast front with my finger for money being in an institution brings for a while. It isn't real money anyway, money that I make or must keep. Two please, I say. As long as I don't have to be present.

    Two is good. They're giving away hams and a Frigidaire at this one. You could use a Frigidaire.

    He is looking at the hole in my trailer where glass should be that I have plugged with bags you can see through. I have this trailer for free because of that hole. But I know he is not really looking that long into my trailer because he is casting his eyes down again over the shelf of my bosom where the money came from, and it isn't so much the money he is interested in.

    He gives me my chances.

    I put them up on the board with the others, move a tack off one, and stick the two under it.

    He puts my money in a clip, then in his pocket.

    The kids giggle from somewhere, one, then two of them.

    He grabs the aerial where it has been lying between the green bottles of my bottle garden, and turns to face the giggling so fast the aerial slaps him. This causes him to say many things which the kids, although used to hearing a lot of everything, stop giggling to hear and thereby, with their silence as a frame, give themselves and their whereabouts away. Ernie's off with the next giggle, tearing through the court like his buttoned-down pants pocket spouts fire.

    His leaving fast like that, aerial whipping, dislodges some of the chances tacked to my door. There they go, in flight out over the fence that is so full of other stuff that the wind here works to stick to it, but the chances don't stop and stick, they fluff up and go off over the gully.

    It is the gully where the cows stand, with the wild girl.

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Table of Contents

Trailer Girl 1
Sundress 147
I Dreamt He Fell Three Floors and Lived 153
Doll 158
Polio 163
Cave Life 167
Psychic 172
Electricity 177
Petrified Woman 185
Leadership 190
Party Girl 194
A Mama 200
Car Frogs 207
Water 211
What Did You Bring Me? 217
Lost the Baby 221
White 226
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