Glory Goes and Gets Some
Author Emily Carter's Glory Bronski is a thirtysomething, upper-middle-class, Jewish, educated, post-rehab, HIV+ woman who is overwhelmed by smut. So is Carter's debut, a collection of 21 linked short stories that, much like the title character, scream to be heard. Their cries reached one notable set of ears: Garrison Keillor selected the title narrative to be included in the compilation Best American Stories 1998.
In "East on Houston," we first meet Glory walking in her native Manhattan. She has walked east on Houston Street many times, and the story tracks her memories of previous journeys. As she walks, catcalls and screeching horns come from passing cars and pedestrians. "You little cunt," they screech at Glory in her tight red dress. This is her life. Glory stops traffic.
After a lifetime of addictions and dependencies ranging from men to heroin, Glory has been shipped from the Big Apple to a treatment center in Minneapolis. She befriends the immigrant children next door, other recovering addicts, and a host of pathetic males. Here, in the middle of the Rust Belt, in her mid-30s, she finally comes of age. Despite--or, perhaps, because of--her past, Glory comes to know who she is, and she strives to help us understand as well.
Carter endows Glory with a voice of her own, independent of her creator, making the reader forget that Carter is to blame for the sex, drugs and philosophical ramblings that make up Glory's well-voiced existence. the author also gives smut a new spin--the profane language and sexual overtones aren't window dressing meant simply to titillate, they're the book's overarching theme.
Carter refuses to let Glory play into the common stereotype of the pitiful, uneducated addict. She plays into another one instead--the educated, well-off fuckup with nothing to blame for her troubles but her dysfunctional childhood. But Glory isn't ephemeral; she lingers, she is worth the reader's consideration. Carter crafts more than just physical images of Glory's smut-imbued world; she delves into the realms of psychology and sociology as well. The author understands that her protagonist is too potent for readers to take in all at once, wisely breaking her down into 21 bite-size portions; Carter strives to be honest and up-front, and she is largely successful. While some of the descriptions of the Midwest fall flat, delving too far into the world of the mundane, Glory's tale of smut and self-awareness carries us on a mostly insightful trip through a life of American excess.