Maureen F. McHugh is the author of four acclaimed novels. Her genre-expanding short fiction has won the Hugo and Locus Awards and has frequently been included in Best of the Year anthologies. Since 1988 she has attracted a broad readership in publications such as Asimov's, Scifiction, Starlight, The Year's Best Science Fiction, and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.
Now, in her long-awaited debut short fiction collection, McHugh's subtle talents illuminate the relationship between parents and children from angles that everyone -- mother or father, daughter or son -- can relate to. These are beautiful stories about the ways in which social and technological shifts impact family dynamics.
I join a dog club. I take along Smith, my seven-month-old golden retriever, because, of course, if you are going to join a dog club, it should be because you want to train your dog. Smith can already slap her butt on the floor when she hears the rattle of the biscuit box. Smith will even sometimes sit when told to, even if no puppy cookie is in evidence. But Smith doesn’t heel and doesn’t stay.
This doesn’t strike me as a major problem. Smith is housebroken, which is what really matters. And if she jumps on people when they come to the door, well, the only person who’s come recently was UPS delivering my videotape on “Decorating with Sheets,” and if I’ve become the kind of person who lives in the suburbs and has a golden retriever and orders videotapes called “Decorating with Sheets,” then life is already too surreal to worry about whether or not Smith can heel and stay.
I’m thinking about sponge painting,” I say, to the air, to Michael, who is practically air anyway.
Michael nods. Even though I’m not looking at him, I can tell that he nods; we’re twins, and I know these things about Michael.
“Imagine it, sponge painting. Wallpaper.” My back window opens on trees and sometimes cows, and I’m looking out of it instead of at Michael. “Next will be fabric painting and decoupage.”
“There’s no rule that says that just because you live in the suburbs you have to be vapid,” Michael says, oh so softly, softly enough that his voice might not even be there. Michael is wearing a plaid shirt and a white T-shirt and boots. I realize that the shirt looks like one of Joe’s.Which is probably on purpose, although, with Michael, I don’t know if “purpose” is exactly the right description. (Does grass have “purpose” when it grows? Do cats have “purpose” when they hunt?)
Joe is still in Brooklyn and I’m here in Ohio, and I haven’t seen Joe since he moved in with Keith five years ago, and I’m not a *** hag anymore, I’m a suburban matron. I don’t even miss Joe or all that sexual tension—his for guys, mine for him.
I think about those abortive attempts at s-x with Joe, and I’m embarrassed for both Joe and myself again.
“I’m middle-aged,” I say.
Michael says nothing. He doesn’t say that thirty-six is hardly middle-aged. He doesn’t say that just because I’ve put on ten pounds and now weigh 140, that doesn’t mean that I’ve become suddenly soft and frowsy and invisible.
I don’t know why weighing 140 pounds means I’m middle-aged, but it does. It is a magic number. A matronly number. More important than wishing young people would get their hair out of their eyes and more important than thinking Green Day sounds banal and that MTV is too sexist. If I could lose ten pounds, then maybe I could put off middle age for a while. But the thought of dieting, of thinking of food all the time, seems like too much to contemplate.
“You need to get out of this place,” Michael says. “You need to meet people.”
So I join a dog club to stave off middle age.