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  • Stop That Girl
  • Written by Elizabeth Mckenzie
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  • Stop That Girl
  • Written by Elizabeth Mckenzie
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307431844
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Fiction

Written by Elizabeth MckenzieAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Elizabeth Mckenzie

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43184-4
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From the start of Elizabeth McKenzie’s beguiling fiction debut, we are drawn into the offbeat worldview of sharp-eyed, intrepid Ann Ransom. Stop That Girl chronicles Ann’s colorful coming-of-age travails, from her childhood in a disjointed family through her tender adolescence and beyond. Along the way, she discovers the absurdities that lurk around every corner of a young woman’s life, by way of oafish neighbors, overzealous boyfriends, prurient vegetable salesmen, sour landlords, and an iconoclast grandmother, known even to her family as Dr. Frost. Keenly funny and highly original, Stop That Girl is a brilliant examination of the exigencies of love and the fragile fabric of family, and heralds the emergence of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Excerpt

STOP THAT GIRL

My mother and I lived alone then, in a pink bungalow in Long Beach, with a small yard full of gopher holes and the smell of the refinery settling over everything we had. We couldn’t leave our glasses on the shelves a week without them gathering a fine mist of oil. I thought we had a real life anyway, before my mother started over.

We employed a stocky Yorkshire woman to walk me home from school past the barbershop with the unhappy mynah bird. “Kill me!” it suggested as we passed by.

I never knew my father. Named Ransom, he was some frat boy who danced well. Mom believed I’d have a leveler head.

My mother worked in petroleum research. She was a geology major in college and went to field camps in Wyoming and was renowned for shooting a bobcat at a hundred yards while it was cuffing around her professor’s beagle. For the oil company, she looked through telescopes at the moon, as if there might be something useful up there. Mom felt her job was a joke. When she came home at night, she locked herself in the bathroom for an hour, taking a hot bath filled with salts.

She was said to look like Lauren Bacall in those days and dated a few of the engineers from the refinery. While Mom went searching for her purse and coat, they would bribe me with something, like it was up to me to release her: Silly Putty, a magnet, a comic book, a stuffed pig with a music box in it.

There we are in Long Beach the fall I’m nearly eight, when the nights have grown cooler and our gas wall unit bangs out its stale-smelling heat, and we’re on the brink of changes so vast it’s hard to believe we don’t see them coming. One Saturday evening, we receive a new visitor in the form of Roy Weeks, a real estate broker, a handsome talker with dimples, cowboy boots, and a rounded ruby ring that looks like a bloody eyeball. He brings a bouquet as big as a baby, and my mother holds it that way. He slips me a piece of Dubble Bubble. By the following week it’s a Slip ’N Slide. I suspect he appeals to that secret Wild West part of my mother, but it’s more. A few months later my mother tells me, “Roy’s taking us both out for a drive today, Ann. We’re going to see a house.”

I sit in the backseat of Roy’s Pontiac as we leave Long Beach behind. We aim for the San Fernando Valley. “You mean we’re going to buy a house out here?” I ask Mom. We’re in the Encino hills; compared to Long Beach it looks like paradise. Huge ranch houses and big yards; rosebushes, hibiscus, banana trees, palms.

“Well, maybe,” my mother says, turning around in her seat like she has something to tell me. “We might buy a house—with Roy.”

“From Roy?”

“No, with him. We might all live out here together.”

“Ann, are you ready for that?” Roy says, eyeing me in his mirror.

I realize what they’re trying to tell me.

We pull up in front of a huge, shingled yellow house, as long as the entire row of bungalows in Long Beach. My mother looks stunned as we wander into the place. It has beamed ceilings, parquet floors, a kitchen with an island and double range, a breakfast nook and bar, a family room, three bedrooms, three baths, two fireplaces, and a den. They show me the room that would be mine; it has sheer pink curtains and wallpaper with ballerinas on it, something for a well-defined girl. When we finish inspecting the place, Roy Weeks says, “Ann, hit me right here! As hard as you can!” He is pointing at his stomach.

I don’t ask why. I just do it.

“I’m waiting.” He winks at my mother.

My hand hurts. I kick him in the shin.

l

Nine months later, Mrs. Weeks has retired from petroleum work, pregnant. In the afternoons, in our new palace, she sews clothes and toys and bedding for the baby, placing them in the nursery-to-be, while I’m thinking of names. Percy is the one I’m rooting for.

Quiet collects in the rooms of that big house more than anywhere we’ve lived. I often tell my mother it’s a tomb, and she says, “Ann, I love this man. But you are still the most important person in the world to me”—the words I live for—and I skate around the parquet floor in my socks, still feeling like it’s all just temporary. I still can’t believe that another family has moved into the pink bungalow, that the woman I called Nana has returned to Leeds, and that a few friends from my school in Long Beach write me real letters with stamps on them like I’ve moved across the world.

“How about a swim?” Mom asks me after school nowadays.

“Maybe.”

I come out into the backyard after a while and see my mother, in her white flowered bathing cap, doing graceful laps up and down the pool. This is no kidney-shaped job, as Roy points out. It’s a classic rectangle of crystal blue, and my eyes follow the long wake of my mother’s stroke.

“Come on in,” Mom calls to me.

To surprise my mother, I say “Okay” and walk straight into the pool with all my clothes on. She laughs and doesn’t get mad at me for possibly ruining my leather shoes. It’s in the afternoons after school when I know I still have an impact on her. Once Roy’s home, she acts like he’s our savior.

One evening he insists we accompany him to some open-house thing, and I climb onto the roof of the Pontiac and won’t get off.

“Get down, Ann,” my pregnant mother says, waiting swaybacked by the car. Roy snaps at my ankles like a crab.

“From up here I can see the reservoir,” I say. “I think boys are peeing into it.”

“That’s nice; let’s go.”

“Is that, like, what we drink?”

Roy stalks around the car and I hop to the other side. He charges back, and this time I slip off. I fall onto the concrete and no matter how much it hurts I decide I won’t cry. Instead I pretend I’m in a coma.

“Ann?” my mother says. “Are you all right? Look what you did!” she yells at Roy Weeks.

“Faker,” he replies. He tickles me.

I sink my teeth into his arm. He slaps me across the top of the head, and my mother tells Roy never to lay a hand on me again. Roy tells my mother I’m becoming a spoiled brat, and then I sit up and hear myself saying, “And you’re a homewrecker.”

And thus, the following weekend, it’s decided I’m spending some time with The Frosts. The Frosts are my grandparents, but when we talk about them we always call them The Frosts. Until then, I’d only seen them once or twice a year because my mother hates them. They are young and have busy schedules for grandparents—Sherwood’s a civil engineer, Liz a pediatrician. Mom grew up a lonely daydreamer with no brothers or sisters. That’s her rationale for the new baby: so things will be different for me.

Friday afternoon Dr. Frost shows up to collect me. She looks like my mother but is smaller and more efficient, never a moment to kill. I don’t know her very well. “Put on a dress with a nice collar, Ann. And comb your hair. I want you to look pretty for your passport.”

“Why do I need a passport?”

“Hasn’t your mother told you about our trip?”

“What trip?”

“You’re coming to Europe with me. I’m attending a medical conference. You’re going to straighten out and learn your place in the world. Good deal?”

“Europe?” I say, looking at my mother. “When?”

“Next month,” Dr. Frost says.

Next month is May. May is a big month. May is when Mom is having the baby.

“I can’t go,” I say. “I need to be here for the baby.”

“You’ve been a big help already,” my mother says.

“I need to help more!”

Dr. Frost says, “After we have your picture taken, let’s go buy some new clothes, shall we? I’m going to need some new things myself.”

“I don’t need any new clothes.”

“All right, then, we’ll just get your picture taken,” Dr. Frost says.

I’m speechless, but finally I say, “This is definitely bizarre and grotesque,” my favorite expression in many situations. Then I add my other: “It’s also grossly mutilated and hugely deformed.”

“Ann, your grandmother has offered to take you to Europe. You’re a very lucky girl.”

Lucky? Who needs parquet floors and a pool. Who needs Europe with the very person who makes my mother scream or cry whenever they talk on the phone. I try to catch my mother’s eye, the special eye that knows me better than anyone, and say, “I don’t want to go.” But the eye doesn’t blink. There’s no hope. Though they disagree on everything else, they’re together on this one. Mom tells me, “The baby might not even come while you’re gone, who knows.”

Roy can’t make it to the airport. Neither can Granddad. I hug my mother and pat her stomach, which looks square now, like a little house. “Tell Percy to wait,” I croak out.

“I’ll try,” my mother says.

l

Our travels take us first to Copenhagen, city of copper domes turned green and raw beef. I’m in Europe. I’m excited. I tell myself I’ll see yodelers and eat lots of chocolate and buy souvenirs for my mother and the people I’ve been meeting at my new school. Even Dr. Frost seems to have loosened up. She’s humming and smiling without explaining why.

Our second night there, in a quaint hotel with floors tilted like a fun house, we receive a telegram from Roy Weeks:

Wonderful news STOP We have a daughter Katherine Louise STOP Mother and baby fine.

“Who’s we?” I say, grabbing the telegram. It hits me for the first time that my sister’s father is Roy Weeks. “Can I call Mom at the hospital?”

Dr. Frost says we’ll send a telegram instead.

“Can we go home now?”

“Ann, you don’t want to see a newborn baby. They’re ugly little things with red faces. They don’t even open their eyes.”

“Really?”

I slide in my socks to the lower wall. Tivoli Gardens sparkles across the street. From her bag my grandmother hauls out a textbook she has brought on this trip to instruct me with. It contains pictures of every bone, every muscle, every lymph gland; the cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous systems: the works. “Tell me about dissecting cadavers,” I ask her.

“Nothing to it,” Dr. Frost says.

“But you were cutting open dead bodies. Wasn’t it bizarre and grotesque?”

“Ann, the body is an amazing machine. It’s not bizarre and grotesque at all.” She points at a skeleton.

I want to hear exciting stories about guts, not her cooled down version of them. “Dead bodies are wonderful, newborn babies are really gross?”

“Good night, Ann,” she says.

“Maybe we should go home,” I murmur, but she ignores me in a different way, pretending not to hear. I pull the covers up around my neck and fall asleep, hearing my grandmother listing bones.


From the Hardcover edition.
Elizabeth Mckenzie|Author Q&A

About Elizabeth Mckenzie

Elizabeth Mckenzie - Stop That Girl

Photo © Gene Higa

Elizabeth McKenzie's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Pushcart Prize XXV, Other Voices, Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, and ZYZZYVA . Her stories have been performed at Symphony Space in New York and Stories on Stage in Chicago, and recorded for NPR's "Selected Shorts." A former staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly, she lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Author Q&A

How much of STOP THAT GIRL is autobiographical?

I think of Stop That Girl as an alternate universe, but parts did end up being pretty autobiographical. For some reason the image of Frankenstein’s monster comes to mind–a real arm here, a real leg there, but when sewn together, something “other” emerged.
This material seemed to demand a certain amount of attention to a past I knew. The matter came up of missing certain people and wanting to hear from them again. I’ll have to admit to a bit of grave robbing here.


I understand you actually met Allen Ginsberg, and that the real-life encounter was much like the one in the book. Can you tell us more?

In college a friend and I borrowed a hulking wreck of a car in order to drive Ginsberg around town and to Baba Ram Dass' (or was it Bagavan Das'?) house one night. I looked up to him as if he were the Abraham Lincoln of his time, and from the garbage-filled backseat this great voice was replying to all the naive questions we were battering him with. 

And did you really find Bob Dylan's hose nozzle?
 
One night, my best friend Roberta and I did end up being shown around Bob Dylan's new house by a couple of carpenters finishing up the job.  The nozzle ended up in my pocket.  After awhile I started to feel kind of dumb about it. I doubted he had gone out and bought it himself. But I still liked it a lot, compared to other nozzles.


Ann has some very complicated relationships with the adults in her life, starting with her mother. Would you agree that the roles are reversed in this relationship?

Not exactly reversed, but certainly gnarled.

Dr. Frost, Ann's grandmother is a spectacular character. Definitely a bit troubled yet, at the same very attentive to Ann, --albeit in her own, misguided way.  Can you explain this?
 
I've noticed that a lonely adult can often let down their guard with a child in a way that they can't with their peers, and this is the case with the relationship between Dr Frost and Ann. When I was a child, I often found myself hanging around with lonely adults who seemed to like talking to me.  Naturally, this made me feel special and good, but whether or not they were models of mental health I don't know.

Is Dr. Frost based on someone from your life?
 
I have just begun to plumb the depths of the very strange person who was my grandmother--my Dr. Frost.  A grandmother for me is not a warm and cozy grey haired being but a prickly snarling ball of mania and misguided schemes.  The kind of person whose acquaintances take you aside and whisper, Call me if you ever need to talk.

One of the most dramatic scenes is the confrontation between Ann's mother and Dr. Frost after Dr. Frost Òkidnaps" Ann. What was the motivation behind writing this?
 
I was very interested in the aftermath of such an episode, no doubt in part because it mirrors an actual situation in my own family--after which, my mother and grandmother were out of touch for thirty years. It's amazing how years of fury can stay under control until one day something happens, such as this, and the whole relationship blows up, and there's no turning back.

What do you think caused the change in Ann's feelings toward her step-father, Roy Weeks?  Is he more of a parent than Ann's own mother?
 
Roy wins Ann over through simple acts of kindness and honesty. It's no surprise that someone in his position can be more of a parent than an actual one.  There are a lot of great non-parents out there, people who make a huge difference to people who need them.


Your work also carries with it a very strong sense of dislocation. Is this theme borrowed from your own experience?
 
Yes.  A big theme in my own childhood was that we were always in the wrong place, and that we had to keep looking for the "right" place.  It was hard to define what would be the right place. It had nothing to do with schools or job opportunities. "The neighbors" always seemed to have something to do with the problem. A mystery like this, something you don't really understand about your life, will keep you going as you write.

Do you think a certain California ethos infuses your work?
 
I'm not conscious of the California angle and wouldn't cultivate it.  If I tried to, I think it would wreck everything.

It wasn't until I went to school for a year in a foreign country (which happened to be Australia), that I realized there was anything special about Los Angeles in the world’s view. There, I seemed to be an object of undue fascination, and kids were asking me questions about Hollywood and Disneyland and the Manson family.  I admitted I didn’t know anyone in the Manson family, but that I had definitely been to Disneyland, and that Hollywood was not a single building but a whole town.  I had a furry coat with big toggles on it that I'd been embarrassed of at home, but which everyone there seemed to think was extremely hip.  Looking back, I realize that THEY were the hip ones.  The kids I met there were much less cut from the mold.

Praise

Praise

“Elizabeth McKenzie is an accomplished humorist and a developed stylist, and she wastes no time dazzling the reader with her clean direct language, her simple but searing use of metaphor and her unflinching eye.”
–The New York Times Book Review


“Hilarious.”
–Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

“Single-handedly reinvigorate[s] the coming-of-age genre.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“An original.”
–The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, funny, and fiercely observant.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A smart, swift-paced debut . . . Ann embraces life with a wary insight that couldn’t be more engaging.”
–O: The Oprah Magazine

“Candid, perceptive . . . [McKenzie’s] tales flail with reckless energy. . . . Appealingly idiosyncratic, sharpened throughout by a keen sense of humor.”
–The Village Voice
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How does the setting of California shape Stop That Girl? How might the novel be different if it were set in another region?

2. Discuss the social backdrop to these stories. How does the culture of the sixties and seventies help shape Ann’s identity?

3. In the first chapter, Ann takes off running with her baby sister. What provokes her to do this? Do you understand her motives in this instant?

4. Explore Dr. Frost’s effect on Ann and her family. How does Ann’s mother’s relationship with Dr. Frost compare to Ann’s relationship with her grandmother? What do you think Dr. Frost’s motives are in regards to her relationship to Ann? Is she merely eccentric, or do you think she has deeper psychological problems? Does Ann or her mother resemble Dr. Frost in any way?

5. Stop That Girl has the unusual format of consistently skipping time between chapters. How did this structure function as a way to explore the turning points in Ann’s life, and how did it affect your reading experience?

6. In “Life on Comet,” how does Ann view her mother’s depression? How does Ann’s perception of her mother change in “We Know Where We Are, But Not Why” when her family is in Arizona?

7. Many reviewers have called Ann Ransom a surprising and original character. How does she differ from other female characters you’ve encountered in contemporary fiction?

8. At the end of “Look Out, Kids,” Ann says, “It all could have been so much different.” What does Ann wish were different? In the broadest sense, why wasn’t it?

9. What messages about family does Stop That Girl send? How does McKenzie define the variables of family?

10. How does McKenzie use humor to express Ann’s worldview?

11. In “S.O.S.,” Ann describes her attraction to her boyfriend, Bart, as originating when she realized “He didn’t like anybody, felt superior, and coming from where I did I was used to this kind of person. One thing led to another” (154). What does she mean with this statement?

12. Roy is one of the few loyal men in Stop That Girl. Why is he so dedicated to Ann’s mother and his family? How would you characterize the other male characters that appear throughout the narrative?

13. Ann finds herself in an uncomfortable situation with her employer in “The Possible World.” Beyond the immediate circumstances, what do you think brought her to this low point?

14. How and where does the theme of being “last of the tribe” surface in this narrative?

15. Throughout the novel, Ann and her family constantly move. Why can’t Ann’s mother settle in one place? What effect does this upheaval have on the rest of the family?

16. How would you compare Ann’s personality at the end of the novel to her character at age seven? Which elements of her personality have changed, and which have essentially remained the same?

17. What are your predictions for Ann’s future? How do you think she’ll live her life?


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