by Andrea McGuigan
Help Wanted: Female (Stories) by Sara Pritchard, 168 pages, Etruscan Press, July 2013
In Morgantown, West Virginia, Wendy costumes herself out of sexual harassment from the boss; Nina dates a musician from another planet; Rae-Jean blows up her home when she sets 18 flea bombs but forgets about the pilot light in the basement. Each of them is dissatisfied; each in need of something intangible and elusive. Each repeats the refrain, “It is all too much.” In Morgantown, the times may change but the song remains the same. In an adept authorial maneuver, the town’s homeless population drifts in and out of separate storylines, creating a world where the transients are perhaps more stable than the fixed city dwellers. In Sara Pritchard’s latest collection, Help Wanted: Female, themes of uncertainty, survival, and self-discovery thread through each protagonist to make a sort of patchwork quilt.
Because Pritchard’s prose is so naturally funny and singular (see band names like Jerry Falwell and the Panty Liners or Non-Dairy Creamer) it would be easy, yet diminishing, to call it quirky. Yes, the characters are bizarre. Yes, the dogs are named Ralph Waldo, Alice James, Ponce De Leon, William Butler Yeats. Yes, one story, Personal Effects, plays out as in inner monologue to the anxiety of suitcase-packing. But quirk exists for the giggle. Wit exists for the retelling, because it brings us to discovery. Pritchard’s interwoven stories exist to do just that, asking the big questions, What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a home? What does it mean for women to navigate life beyond the definition of relationships with men?
Pritchard also authored the short story collection Lately (Mariner Books 2007) and the novel-in-stories Crackpots (Mariner 2003) which won the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference’s Bakeless Prize for Fiction. She is a faculty member in the Wilkes University Creative Writing M.A./M.F.A. program. I had the chance to connect with her this past week:
What can you tell us about the process of writing this book? For instance, how long did it take? Did you make major changes? Did anything surprise you along the way?
I think it took me about six years to write the 10 stories in this book. Yes, every story was full of surprises for me. I either never know where I’m going with a story when I start it, or I know where I want to end up but not how to get there, or there’s that other route: I have one great scene in mind and then work around it. All my stories have a lot of white space breaks because they’re composed of scenes, snapshots, vignettes that ‘speak’ to each other — through image, as well as through narrative.
What made you decide to publish through Etruscan Press?
I was looking for a small press with literary integrity. Etruscan was the obvious choice because I admire their books and their authors and because they’re headquartered at Wilkes University. Also, I heard Etruscan editor Bob Mooney read at the Wilkes residency, and I said to myself, ‘Wow! Now that’s writing! I want to work with him.’
Andrea McGuigan is a poet, artist-in-residence, co-host of Prose in Pubs, and general Scrantonian bibliophile. Please email book review material, or information about literary events to mcguigan.