Girl Trouble, a Harper Perennial paperback original, is Rona Jaffe Award winner Holly Goddard Jones’s debut short story collection, set around small-town Southerners caught in moral and sometimes mortal quandaries. Written with extraordinary empathy and maturity, and with the breadth and complexity of a novel, these eight beautifully written, achingly poignant, and occasionally heartbreaking stories explore the fine line between right and wrong, good and bad, love and violence.
The eight stories in this debut collection maintain a sense of isolation and loss while depicting and dissecting the lives of drifting characters making questionable decisions in a quiet Kentucky town. In the title piece, a father is faced with a moral quandary when his 19-year-old son is accused of raping a local teenager. The others follow similar themes of emotional voids and gaps in trust. In "Upright Man," a college-bound town kid, Matt, befriends "large and muscular and handsome" country-boy Robbie while doing manual labor the summer after graduation. Though Robbie helps Matt get his first girlfriend, Matt secretly desires Robbie's girl and discovers how easily betrayal overcomes good intentions. The strongest entries are "Parts" and "Proof of God," opposite sides of the same tale, narrated in turn by the mother who loses her daughter in a horrific crime, and the college classmate who killed her. Throughout each, the fallible characters are handled with delicate honesty. Though the setting tends to feel repetitive, Jones writes with grace and ease, the selections adding up to a powerful sum of reflection, loss and regret.