Anya Achtenberg’s The Stories of Devil-Girl (Modern History Press, 2008) is one of the books that cannot be confidently placed in a single category/genre. We may look at it as fiction, semi-autobiographical non-fiction, experimental prose, memoir, and even rhetoric mixed with narrative. Though not very long, this book is rich in variety of themes and styles adopted to tell multiple stories that would serve as chapters of a single modern tale about contemporary urban life, especially in America.
Most of the situations in these short stories blend the disturbing images of exploitation and abuse with a narrative’s voice – the Devil-Girl – who speaks sometimes in first person, referring to her own life, and sometimes as a commentator on the observations made in her current surroundings or past life. Motifs of sexual abuse, homelessness, and neglect in urban living recur throughout the book. Devil-Girl thus becomes a character and a voice in one, serving a lens that focuses thoughts and feelings of the reader on the poignant images created via words. The mood prevailing in these stories is dominantly resistive but provocatively helpless, calling for human attention.
Despite the feeling of gender-sensitive care searing out of the writer’s heart though her words, Achtenberg’s Devil-Girl remains a child who looks at the exploitative world with redemptive innocence. The situations and character responses in themselves are very critical of the world and of the existence itself, so much that one feels the surrealistic style adopted in many stories is a means of negating existence on the terms of a mad society. Nevertheless, by refusing to act out the true obedience the world expects of her, the Devil-Girl gives us hope in the form of human strength that stands the trails of oppression and is born afresh to see a better day.
If you love reading experimental fiction/non-fiction and new forms of literary approaches to social observation and critique, The Stories of Devil-Girl is just the book for you.