Goth or not, country or not, if you have ever been a teenager then SOMETHING in this collection of stories will speak to you. Maybe you’ve never befriended a drug addict squatting in a mausoleum, and maybe you’ve never had a bad trip at a MENSA party hosted by your girlfriend’s parents, but there are definitely some teenage feelings rolling dark and deep in all of us! Chavis Woods has labeled and celebrated that feeling of “something more”; most notably in the titular story, “Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country”.
It was a hip pocket where the universe opened up in the middle of that ugly rural town and allowed things to seem cosmopolitan for one hundred and fifty square feet. All we did there was smoke because no one could see us back there and we were too young to legally smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes tasted better there. That taste they have when you don’t smoke often and it’s new, that’s what it was. The smell of Marlboros and Camels are two very different things, but both are savory when smoking is new to you, and taste like a fresh croissant in Paris your first day in town. That’s how cigarettes tasted to me there under the bell tower when I was sixteen.
Much like being a teenager, young adult, or youngish adult looking back through a hazy glow, it’s not all savory smoke under the bell tower. Some of the stories in this collection are absolute Mack trucks; they come rushing in unannounced and ruin you. Some attempt to choke up the pipeline from rural high school cafeterias directly into the military industrial complex, some question the meaning of religion and some track possible aliens through the woods. About half of the pieces are glorious; they’re filthy, dark, hilarious, and bittersweet. The other half though…are not the best. This collection could stand to lose some stories- including the opening piece. “How to Stop Smoking in Nineteen Thousand Two Hundred and Eighty-Seven Seconds, Usama” was nigh on impenetrable. It took me days to force myself through, and I came close to giving up on the collection all together. It was scattered, highly affected, very unlike the rest of the collection. Luckily, there were moments of brightness still shining through that mire, and I was able to continue on.
We clopped up the wilting porch of the trailer where rotting furniture was rotting in the rain on the drooping, decaying wood. The porch was threatening to metamorphose into an organic lifeform, or perhaps just mold itself back into the wet ground. Maybe the porch would liquefy and become a moat are the trailer and you’d have to float on the couch to get across. Maybe even the couch would become an organic life-form and give you a guided speaking tour of the trailer moat as it floated you up to the door.
Woods creates a portrait of rural America unlike many of the others currently jockeying for attention; her America feels authentic without being patronizing. It feels dark without being unbearably grin, and it radiates queerness despite being wrapped tight in the Bible Belt. I look forward to creeping back under her shadowy shawl again; I hope she makes a collection around being an adult in the Trump era to mirror this collection of being young with Dubya.