“Wife,” the first of the three stories in There Is Something Inside, It Wants To Get Out felt like it was written just for me, just for my generation. This no doubt captured my favor early on. No, no, it does not play on generational divides. The book is heavy on trans-generational exchanges. It was the nostalgia as Wednesday, the story’s protagonist, reminisces the potential-laden romance of high school—the “eyelet skirts, candy necklaces, [and boys] in unlaced sneakers and unbuttoned flannels.” That is, as she reminisces on what I am certain many young lust seekers of the nineties would agree are the important things.
It was also the feminism. I was unspeakably amused, personally, by mention of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Orlando. It was presumably slipped in for authenticity, but as one of two NWSA conferences I have attended, you might see how I was uniquely touched. More importantly, “Wife” accomplishes something for the book that contemporary literature is generally lacking. By acknowledging the zeitgeist and using feminism as a framework for character development, the story can resonate with feminists and non-feminists alike. Wednesday’s mom, Ms. Jefferson, is described as a second-wave feminist. It will likely be a familiar generational reference for many readers who came of age during the second-wave era or are the children of those men and women. Whereas fictional works are frequently received for a feminist appeal, or else shy from feminism entirely, There Is Something Inside, It Wants To Get Out bridges that divide by employing the topic for literary effect.
Many people have recognized author Madeline McDonnell as a savvy wordsmith, and the praise is certainly earned. Is it possible to be derisive and compassionate? McDonnell’s acumen makes the unseemly unification natural. The characters are impregnated with many antithetical drives that find easy cohabitation. The result is that protagonists Wednesday, Mary, and Lucy, as well as the others we meet, are a lush and intriguing set. Their banter can be both humorous and barbed. Their love is laced with mild disgust. Yet McDonnell harbors her characters from vilification. They are ambitious and self-directed, but they are navigating the world without a blueprint and sometimes falter. Herein lies their charm.
In their way, Wednesday, Mary, and Lucy unify the stories. Each woman narrates her experience. Each is self-reflective and strives to be self-directed. Each relates to the world through her body. Mary though, as highlighted through the anthropomorphizing of her white blood cells, is subject to her body. In this way and others, “Physical Education” distinguishes itself from “Wife” and “Trouble.” As events unfold by Mary’s telling, they open a window on her dad and make it his story nearly as much as it is hers. Grappling with her health, her dad finds an easy niche. Like the narrators, he falters, shows flaws in his affection, and is all the while well-meaning and endearing. Personalities are exposed and augmented by the intimate relationships of parents, children, and romantic partners throughout the book. But of the supporting characters, Mary’s dad is much closer to being a protagonist.
Ms. Jefferson would certainly give a nod to There Is Something Inside, It Wants To Get Out. It is rich with nuance—a trait she laments Wednesday’s boyfriend lacks. It is written with prowess. And tapping into the internal motivations of its characters, the book is cunning in its navigation of contradiction to find a sense of self.
When not working at Los Angeles’ archives and museums, Emilie co-authors the culinary blog Ceci N’est Pas Un Repas (unrepas.blogspot.com). Proud to have read the Spanish translation of Charlotte’s Web this year, she is now reading the Armenian translation of her favorite childhood picture book, The Paper Bag Princess. She has been stuck on the first page for 3 months.