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The Girl Without Anyone

by Kelli Deeth

In this fresh, unflinching look at some familiar themes – cleft and reconstituted families, the daughter-as-mother figure, suburban angst – Kelli Deeth introduces readers to Leah, “the girl without anyone.” Leah is alternately bound by an “anxious stem of caring” and freed by the necessary separation from family and friends that will allow her to become her own person.
Throughout these eight linked stories, notable for their uncluttered style and solid sense of character, Leah is fierce and confrontational, wounding her mother and father constantly and without remorse. They, in turn, vie childishly for her affections, forcing her to hoard her emotions and distance herself from family squabbles. But Leah is also easily duped by love: by how to get it, and what it means to give it.
In “The White Carpet,” she charms her insecure father into allowing her to live with him, then reneges when she comes to understand the weight of his need for her. As a young adult, Leah is drawn to men who are also outsiders, versed with a loneliness she recognizes and mistakes for romantic common ground. In “Waitress,” 17-year-old Leah fashions a customer, the lecherous and much older Roy, into a sexual stand-in for her dreams of independence.
What makes these stories compelling is that Leah’s self-awareness is so fleeting, her hope so perennially and heartbreakingly misplaced. Deeth has an acute instinct for selecting revelatory moments, then giving them room to resonate. Her spare prose is perfectly suited to the straight-up depictions of the shortcomings Leah recognizes in herself and others. The Girl Without Anyone is a subtle, sure-footed first collection.