A girl on the brink of adolescence hates her mother and refuses to exhibit any ladylike behavior. A middle-aged woman, feeling restless and bored with her suddenly legitimate affair, seeks fulfillment by traveling to Thailand, hoping to save sex slaves. Faced with the death of her childhood best friend, an older woman retraces the complicated path of their history together.
These characters are just a few of the conflicted, moving subjects in Jean Thompson’s latest short story collection, “Throw Like a Girl,” out this week. Written in wry, simple prose, the stories are about women of various ages and circumstances as they grapple with work, romance, family and all the minutiae that comes with navigating life.
“I didn’t want all of the women characters, even if they were in difficult situations, to be passive and pathetic, although it would be nice if nobody ever was,” explains Thompson. “I think it’s accurate, that there’s verisimilitude in talking about women who don’t make good choices or who are oppressed in one way or the other.”
While some characters, like Jessie in “The Five Senses,” who latches onto a sketchy boyfriend with seemingly sinister intentions, clearly stray from the route to happiness, Thompson treats them with an unsentimental lack of judgment. It is easy to see why David Sedaris endorsed Thompson’s last novel, “Who Do You Love,” on his most recent book tour.
“Oh bless his heart! He’s been so nice to me,” drawls Thompson, who has met Sedaris only once. “I can say this with a clear conscience: It involved no scheming on my part. He just became a fan.”
Like Sedaris, Thompson grew up in a large family (she was the eldest of four). They moved around, to Chicago; Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, and her mother taught her to read before she entered school. Thompson wrote what she calls “juvenilia” as a child. She studied English at the University of Illinois, got an MFA from Bowling Green State University and now spends her time writing (she has published four novels and short story collections) and teaching.
“Throw Like a Girl” is not her only work populated with dysfunctional relationships, as one of Thompson’s diligent students discovered.
This story first appeared in the June 7, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“He set out to read a lot of my work and he came to class one day and shook his head and sighed and said, ‘There’s just no good love in your writing, is there?'” laughs Thompson. “I guess that’s kind of painful to think about, but the thing I would say is, ‘Who writes happy?’ If there’s no conflict, it doesn’t make much of a story.”