Pursell’s writing, lyric and compressed, delivers stories best read in stages, so as not to miss a single note. There’s a lot of urgency packed into these small spaces ... Pursell writes girls the way they need to be seen. They are searching, fraught, even lost, but they are also insightful, whip-smart, and do not have the time for your condescension, because they are busy dealing with the storms life has delivered upon them. Neither sentimental nor overtly political, these stories, while lyrical, land so close to the bone, they hurt ... where the first collection works as an evidence file documenting what it means to move through life as a woman, A Girl Goes into the Woods delves deeper, expanding dimensionally ... The shorter stories, lean and muscular, feel the most rewarding.
... altogether a different sort of feat from epic storytelling for an author to communicate all she wants to say in such a limited fashion and to trust that the reader will follow with her ... Most of the stories in this book have female protagonists, and while they are all flawed, Pursell treats them with more care—as in the mothers who lost their daughters—than the fewer male protagonists ... Pursell’s economy of words often left me wanting more. This isn’t a criticism; instead, I feel it’s the key to this collection’s magic. I am normally a very fast reader, but I had to take a lot of time to pause and process. I often felt like I wasn’t smart enough to fully comprehend what I had just read ... while I was, admittedly, sometimes frustrated, I was more often fascinated. Especially as rereading brought emphasis to new words, often suddenly unlocking a passage I struggled with.
... shines light on the transitions and transformations we go through in life and the changing relationships between parents and children ... Although there is no dramatic action of a typical fairy tale, this is not a criticism. Pursell’s stories offer glimpses into lives that are as deep and rewarding as longer work. It is her shortest stories, some just a paragraph long, that are the most powerful. Pursell is a master of the flash fiction form, knowing which details to reveal and the moments that convey so much more than what is written on the page. Each of these stories opens up an entire life in these small spaces delivering characters that contain secrets and dreams and embody the complicated yet wonderful mess of being alive ... What makes A Girl Goes into the Forest a true pleasure to read as a whole collection is that when reading these stories there is a sense of time passing, detailing the impact of the shifting stages of life ... Pursell is allowing the reader to peer into many different photos and view worlds that shift and transform—in dark and terrifying ways and lovely and comforting ways.
Pursell’s stories acknowledge female agency, where a woman is both author and hero and where fairytale endings are more like glimmers of hope ... Within those minimalist confines, Pursell can encapsulate an entire life, while a single sentence can cut like a knife. She capably carves out heartache and despair ... The collection leans more toward realism than fairytale and yet there are moments of whimsy and enchantment ... These 78 stories are not linked and yet the arrangement, the juxtaposition of one pressed against the side of another, creates a conversation. Then there are the echoes, recurring themes and motifs, and fractals. The mind wants to finish the story, find commonality, resolution, perhaps reconciliation.
Pursell’s surreal stories together form a familiar picture of a world full of love and yearning, parents and children, lovers and their broken hearts, human contradictions, loneliness, longings, and failures to connect.
Pursell is a master of the atmospheric moment ... to ignore the depths of engagement Pursell manages to invest in the look that passes between aging parents, the smell of a daughter’s shampoo, the 'airy bell' of an unattainable lover’s gypsy skirt 'ringing around her hips,' would be a peril of a different sort. Precise, delicate, yet bloody-minded in their refusal to look away from the most painful moments of our tender lives, Pursell’s stories shine brightest where they allow themselves to dwell undisturbed in their instants. The collection as a whole suffers from some muddiness due to the sheer number of these moments, which inevitably include duplications of vantage and image. This encourages the reader to look for an underlying narrative pattern that does not quite materialize; yet, the joys of the individual stories sparkle so winsomely it is easy to ignore this quibble as we push forward, eagerly, into the forest ahead ... Tiny tales that resonate far beyond their borders to remind us that, with the right kind of attention, 'beast, bird, botany, being—all [are] knowable.'
... haunting ... mysterious stories distantly echo fairy tales, and clap past and present together to shocking effect ... Pursell’s sharply condensed tales pack a bigger punch than the longer ones. Because the stories are so sharp and disturbing, and because they don’t fall into any overarching pattern, they are probably best consumed in small quantities. Readers beguiled by modern interpretations of old fairy tales will be pleased.