Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, The
by Gaetan Soucy
That happens to be the camp in which I have found myself, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my choice of “light” reading to serve as intermission between two massive classics. “Little Girl” was everything Tolstoy is not, the mundane to Tolstoy’s epic, the perverted to Tolstoy’s romantic, the surreal to Tolstoy’s realism, the profane to Tolstoy’s pristine. I can’t imagine a better palate cleanser. . . maybe something comedic like David Sedaris. . . but no, I’m glad that this was the shortest book at hand (and I thank GR friend Karl for the recommendation).
This recalled several other books I’ve read: for their unreliable narrators Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Banks’s The Wasp Factory, and even some classics like The Fall, Notes from Underground, The Metamorphosis and Faulkner. . . oh yes, Faulkner. Soucy also evinces Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy (especially Outer Dark) with his depictions of desolate, ignorant, rural countryside. In other words, Soucy’s traveling in good company.
Unfortunately, Soucy’s book most reminds me of my least favorite of the above listed, “Wasp Factory.” They came out in the same year so it’s strangely coincidental that both combine the unreliable adolescent narrator, an overbearing father, surreal flourishes and most importantly a gender-bending twist. For what it’s worth, I think Soucy does it better — both more believably and more artistically than Banks.
But because I’ve read these others, I’m not bowled over just by the fact that Soucy has written a novel from the viewpoint of a deranged teenager with a crazy father in a raw voice and sinister tone. I’ve seen it done before. Soucy does it well, but I’m not sure how much deeper that sub-genre can be mined. This is something that Faulkner began doing several decades ago, so at this point I need to see something pretty damn novel to be impressed. Soucy’s book, while well-written, is not that.
The biggest flaw is that Soucy’s narrator device is too contrived. It’s a great idea, and a unique voice, but the deranged teen is distractingly unrealistic. Someone that ignorant would not use the rich language, imagery and metaphors that are constantly deployed. Someone would not be able to narrate the goings-on as they were happening, while locked in a shed, much less while giving birth. An amateur writer would not conveniently forget to leave out the most major plot points until the very end, and then claim “I guess I forgot.” That is all a contrivance, and the level of planning needed to pull off this story in a suspenseful way belies the very rawness that it claims to portray. It’s an entertaining exercise, but also annoying. It’s pretty much the definition of “pretention,” in that it’s claiming to be something it very clearly is not.
All in all, I rank “Little Girl” near the bottom of the sub-genre I described above. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since most of those books are either among my favorites or widely recognized as some of the best ever written. This one, too, contains beautiful prose and capably explores an intriguing premise. The two main defects are 1) its questionable originality and 2) with the narrator, Soucy wanted to eat his cake and have it too.