The Shimmering Go-Between, the debut novel by Lee Klein, published by Atticus Books, takes its title from a quote by Vladimir Nabokov: "Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall tale, there is a shimmering go-between..." That's a telling quote, for it alerts the reader to the possibility that we are on the threshold of something fantastic.
The story begins with Dolores, a precocious young girl who becomes pregnant while still in high school. There's just one problem: "She hadn't been penetrated. No one knew what to say. She swore she hadn't been with anyone. Hadn't even been near anyone. Had never even seen a real live penis."
Dolores' story is regarded with the usual skepticism from her parents and family physician, but it keeps happening. Somehow Dolores seems to be conceiving without the assistance of a sperm donor. In other words, she can fertilize her own eggs.
Traumatized by these experiences, Dolores avoids contact with boys until she enrolls in college. After a night of sex with Max, a fellow student with political ambitions, something really strange happens. His beard fills with nits that grow into "squirmy half-grains of buttered risotto" and turn into a "mini-Amazonian clan" of little women that stop growing when they reach a height of three centimeters.
This bizarre development sets the stage for the rest of the book, which focuses on a love triangle between Dolores, Max and another bearded fellow: Dolores' co-worker Wilson, who possesses a disturbing secret that nests nicely with the theme of self-fertilization.
Set during "the time the internet came into the lives of ordinary citizens," Klein's characters inhabit a bland, featureless landscape that has all the charm of a set from the TV show Friends. Even the author's excellent black-and-white illustrations seem stuck in time—such is their desire to give the reader a glimpse into the world the author has created.
But in the weeds lurks another world, a world within Wilson that looks a bit like Colonial Williamsburg and is populated by—well, it's complicated. Suffice to say that these two storylines—the world within Wilson and the world without—intersect in dramatic fashion.
Klein's mastery over these two narratives makes The Shimmering Go-Between a shocking and delightful debut that will beguile you at every turn.
Erika T. Wurth's debut novel from Curbside Splendor, Crazy Horse's Girlfriend, also deals with teen pregnancy, but the circumstances couldn't be more different.
Wurth's protagonist, Magaritte, is a 16-year-old Native American whose family has escaped the poverty and despair of the reservation but is just barely getting by in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Magaritte is a bright but irreverent young girl who juggles school and a part-time job, taking care of her toddler twin sisters, keeping her wild cousin Jake out of trouble and staying out of her alcoholic father's way. To make ends meet, she helps Jake with petty drug deals.
Then she meets a boy. Mike is the new kid in school who's moved from California to the wealthy suburbs of Idaho Springs. "He took my clothes off slowly, his hand running down my hip, over my thunderbird tattoo. 'I love this thing,' he said and kissed it."
This exchange sends a warning to readers that Mike sees Magaritte not as a person so much as an exotic other, a plaything for his fantasies. Magaritte, though street savvy and justifiably wary, is still just a kid, and she falls for him in a bad way. Mike, of course, isn't as innocent as she is first made to believe, and their romance has terrible consequences for Magaritte, Jake and her entire family.
It's a plot right out of an after-school special, but in Crazy Horse's Girlfriend, there's no safety net. On TV, the hardest thing the protagonist has to do is face the consequences of her actions. Magaritte has to do that, too, and it's not easy, but her situation is complicated by the constant threat of violence—both on the streets and in her home.
Wurth paints a stirring portrait of life at the margins for a Native American teen whose dream of living a normal life is compromised by the poverty she desperately tries to escape. Crazy Horse's Girlfriend isn't just a story about Native Americans; it's an American story we cannot afford to ignore.