A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
Coffee House Press, 2014
227 pp., $24.00
Karen Swallow Prior
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Do not be afraid—I will save you.
I have called you by name—you are mine.
When you pass through deep water, I will be with you;
Your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
For I am the Lord your God.
One reading of the book—one I suspect (based on published interviews) McBride herself adheres to—would say that this prayer of the girl, taken from Isaiah 43, is met only with silence. Yet, McBride confessed in The White Review, "I am not as good an atheist as I would like to be." Despite its grimness and pessimism, Girl bears this confession out. So another reading of the novel would say that God is there with the girl, there in the waters to which she returns time and time again, seeking the cleansing of baptism. There is redemption, transformation even. It may not be the one we would seek or want, but—Christ knows—it rarely is. It comes at great cost, even to the reader.
Despite McBride's pioneering inventiveness, her own and some critics' assessments that Girl signals the end of the traditional form of the novel are, shall we say, slightly exaggerated. The novel form carries within it unending possibilities—from the non-linear narrative of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in the 18th century, to David Foster Wallace's genre-busting Infinite Jest in the 20th century, and James Joyce's inscrutable Finnegans Wake in between. That McBride manages both to build on this foundation and to break sufficiently from it to create something heretofore undone is testament not only to her literary skill but also to the inexhaustible possibilities of the novel form itself.
Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, coming from Thomas Nelson in November.
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