Review: Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris (2020)

Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris

Blurb

Lost Girls explores the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. A young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood.

Review

I am so grateful to the author for reaching out and offering me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I am a huge fan of short story collections, and Lost Girls sounded like just my thing.

This is a brilliant collection. Morris is an incredibly skilled writer, creating quietly devastating, insightful stories which mine the lives of women and girls to build up a profound, unflinching picture of all the quirks and hurts wrapped up in everyday experiences. These stories ring absolutely true: they are shockingly perceptive, deeply probing, intelligent, and above all, beautifully written. I have spoken before about the ‘short story pang’, when you recognise a truth you’d never seen expressed before – Lost Girls delivers this feeling in spades.

It’s hard to pick out individual stories as favourites, as one of the most exciting features of this collection is the way it subtly builds, circling back to characters and situations, each new story adding to what has come before while standing apart from it. However, if I had to highlight the stories I am most keen to revisit, they would certainly include ‘Religion’ (a stunning example of the deeply unsettling seam that runs through these stories), ‘Life After,’ in which a grieving mother is depicted with almost unbearable poignancy, ‘Helter Skelter,’ ‘Neverland,’ and ‘Emoticon.’ The latter is one of the shortest stories in the book, and the one that reminded me of Mary South’s debut collection, You Will Never Be Forgotten, which I read last year and loved.

Morris’ writing combines the sharp, modern tang of writers such as Mary South and Lauren Groff with a sensibility that reminds me of Alice Munro’s work: a depth rather than breadth of subject, repeating themes and situations (and the specific location of Slocum) to chisel away at the veneer of mundanity that covers over all of the deep, dark truths that these stories expose. Like Munro, Morris seems to be documenting rather than inventing, so close does her work seem to the truth of female experience. It is a remarkable, beautifully crafted achievement, like a sculpture carved from natural materials, revealing shapes hidden beneath the surface.

As you can tell, I am in awe of Morris’ skill as a short story writer. She is so assured and confident with this powerful form, and Lost Girls is really something very special. This is a collection to be savoured and revisited, and I can’t wait to read more from this talented author. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for vivid, profound, beautifully written short stories with an edge.

Lost Girls is published by TouchPoint Press and is available to purchase here.

Author website: https://ellenbirkettmorris.ink/index.html

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