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How to Get Along with Women

by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Many of the characters in Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s debut collection have identity issues and confidence problems, but their author is incredibly self-assured. De Mariaffi focuses on female relationships – both romantic and between friends – and the power struggles that accompany them. Centring on women fighting to come to terms with their own identity or trying to grasp the full force of their sexuality, de Mariaffi explores her subjects with a detail-oriented eye, deftly inserting the reader into key moments in her characters’ lives.

Issues of sexuality come to the fore in the collection’s title story. The unnamed main character considers her sexual energy something to experiment with, and tests its limits by cheating on her boyfriend with an older man “just for the experience.” This character’s issues don’t just apply to men – she has no female friends and trouble understanding other women.

Negative relationships among women recur throughout. Most of the female characters are cruel, whether intentionally or not, to their counterparts. In “Super Carniceria,” Anna purposely hurts her fellow flight attendant, Jennie, by outing her pregnancy after Jennie unknowingly insults Anna’s dead kid brother.

“The Astonishing Abercrombie!” is the only story told from the perspective of a male protagonist; it is also one of the collection’s strongest. Young Abercrombie’s life circles around his flighty mother, who repeatedly abandons her sons and her second husband whenever she needs a break from life. In filtering the story of the mother’s fractured family and romantic relationships through the eyes of a sad yet hopeful young boy, de Mariaffi truly shines. In another, less confident author’s hands, the story could appear as the odd one out; in de Mariaffi’s, however, it’s the quiet, emotionally wrenching star.