I'm starting to believe that I should just go ahead and change the title to this series of short story postings to "Joyce Carol Oates Monday" since I've become so hooked on a regular reading of her short work. This week I'm adding another story from her Small Avalanches collection: "Bad Girls."
"Bad Girls" is narrated by Orchid, the middle sister of a single-parent household. She and her two sisters have local reputations as "bad girls," although as Orchid observes that really is more a reflection on the lifestyle that their mother can afford for the four of them than on anything they have done. As she puts it, "Bad girls you could almost hear them thinking. Bad girls! some old pain-in-the-ass aunt of Momma's once hissed at us 'cause we were doing something she didn't like. Which is what adults mean by bad - you're doing something they don't like."
Of course, the girls learned to enjoy the attention they got and they tried to "shock" the adults around them by things like nose piercing and adding purple streaks to their hair...and it worked. It made them feel alive and special despite the cynics that their mother was turning them into by bringing a succession of "losers" into their lives for weeks or months at a time.
Before long, the girls came to believe that no man was to be trusted and that their mother was humbling herself to these losers out of some desperate need of her own for love and security. They swore never to be like her and they wanted to shake her out of her complacency. Granted, their mother must be sexy they figured, but they came to equate sexiness with hypocrisy, firmly believing it impossible to be sexy without also being a hypocrite.
It is when these teenage cynics decide that they need to expose their mother's latest boyfriend as a fraud that things get out of hand and change five lives forever. Were they really bad girls, after all? Orchid still wonders.
As is so often the case with a Joyce Carol Oates story, "Bad Girls" has been produced on stage here and in Europe. The sad little world lived in by Orchid and her sisters, and so aptly described by her in a mere thirty-five pages, is enough to give any single-parent second thoughts about haphazardly bringing strangers into the lives of children who often soak up the wrong lessons from the experience. The dangers are real and the consequences not easily foreseen.
"Bad Girls" is another memorable story from the Small Avalanches collection, a collection that I appreciate more with each story.
Rated at: 5.0