Don’t Tell Me What to Do by Dina Del Buc­chia

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - DANA HANSEN

Don’t Tell Me What to Do by Dina Del Buc­chia, Ar­se­nal Pulp Press, 278 pages, $17.95

In most books of short sto­ries, there are two or three pieces (if you’re lucky) that stand out, de­fine, and carry the rest of the col­lec­tion. The other pieces be­come back­ground mu­sic, un­ob­tru­sive but in­con­se­quen­tial. In Dina Del Buc­chia’s col­lec­tion, how­ever, there sim­ply are no B-sides. Each of the fif­teen sto­ries, mostly pop­u­lated by fe­male pro­tag­o­nists at less-than-per­fect mo­ments in their lives, show the work of a gen­er­ous writer com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing char­ac­ters un­apolo­get­i­cally be­ing them­selves in all their flawed, mis­guided glory. These are ir­re­sistible, if not ex­actly ad­mirable, women: the kind you gos­sip about and wish you ac­tu­ally knew. In “Haul” and “Cold Cuts”—two of the darker sto­ries in the col­lec­tion—a high school fresh­man and an un­em­ployed twenty-some­thing each go to ex­treme lengths to fill a void in their lives. The un­named char­ac­ter in “Haul” is ob­sessed with cre­at­ing haul videos based on her end­less fash­ion shop­ping ex­pe­di­tions. She fran­ti­cally tracks her views, likes, and com­ments, as her closet bulges with her pur­chases and her school­work suf­fers. Her goals: “stay or­ga­nized, make good im­pres­sions, try hard, be seen.” The im­agery in the fi­nal para­graph of the story, the girl’s body “fully woven into the tan­gle of tex­tiles,” is chill­ing. The other, Natalie, “young and from a bro­ken home,” has been with­out work for some time af­ter be­ing fired from her print shop job for cre­ative use of the pho­to­copiers. Not will­ing to rely on her live-in boyfriend’s in­come to buy gro­ceries, she is de­ter­mined to be pro­duc­tive: “We need to keep our­selves fed, and I’m a go-get­ter, but no one around seems to want to ac­knowl­edge that.” Natalie’s un­usual ver­sion of pro­duc­tiv­ity—a kind of en­trepreneur­ship in her es­ti­ma­tion—in­volves crash­ing fu­ner­als and steal­ing food. When a near-fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­ter­rupts her go-get­ting be­hav­iour, the cal­lous Natalie is shaken, but seem­ingly un­de­terred.

Other sto­ries in Don’t Tell Me What to Do fea­ture women search­ing for re­lease from their present un­sat­is­fac­tory cir­cum­stances, fre­quently in­volv­ing the men in their lives. In the col­lec­tion’s ti­tle story, Alex is a young woman living in a small, slow Al­berta town with her much older boyfriend, Robert. They spend evenings at Gus’s bar get­ting drunk, and Alex’s bore­dom with her pro­vin­cial ex­is­tence and its lack of fun is pal­pa­ble. When she dis­cov­ers Gus’s hid­den stash of coins, she makes off with thousands and heads for ex­cite­ment at the West Ed­mon­ton Mall. Alex’s ef­forts to avoid cap­ture and en­joy her brief mo­ment of free­dom and ad­ven­ture are hu­mor­ous, strangely laud­able, and def­i­nitely sad. In the col­lec­tion’s fi­nal story, “The Gospel of Kit­tany,” a model-turned-cult leader in­structs one of her disciples as they look at pho­tos of her fe­male fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia: “‘Look at these women,’” she says, “‘Re­ally look . . . See them’.” And that is ex­actly what Del Buc­chia re­quires of us when we read her bril­liant fic­tion de­but. Dana Hansen

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