Told from a close distance, these stories lack the rich patina of hindsight, their pleasures coming instead from an immediacy and an engaging voice. They evoke the thrill of an all-night conversation with your hip, frank, funny college roommate ... Rather than limiting the collection’s gaze, this perspective amplifies the universal pitfalls of coming of age in 21st-century America ... Evans hits a deep vein just below the Mason-Dixon, especially in her exploration of how an immigrant population has tangled the color line.
There’s a palpable vision at work here, and it makes for a thematically incisive and cohesive, if occasionally redundant, collection that examines the lives of intelligent, highly sensitive young black and biracial women (and, occasionally, men) struggling to progress beyond transient, indeterminate states of youth ... The archetypical friendship between two teenage girls...is also examined here ('Virgins,' 'Robert E. Lee Is Dead') with a steady and unwavering realism that elevates these stories from more conventional studies ... There is an inherent loneliness to these characters—an inability to make lasting connections with the people they most love, to bridge identities and personal history into an optimistic and cohesive view on the future, an apartness sometimes rendered from unconscionable failures of personal judgment and morality ... A thematically potent collection, whose promise is realized by Evans’s remarkable ability to fashion dramatic, even devastating narrative moments from so-called ordinary life.
Whether she’s observing people who work at Ruby Tuesday or Harvard students, Evans is a startlingly good sociocultural mimic ... Each story shares a particular female voice: tough, pragmatic, knowing, snappy ... The tension to keep control is especially painful in the most dramatic stories because the characters are just steps away from losing it all ... There are books that capture our world perfectly, like a scrim over a stage. And then there are books that surprise the audience and go somewhere new, somewhere completely unpredictable. In this collection, Evans paints a picture, sometimes ripping through the fabric. One wonders where she will go next.
Ms. Evans's strong voice seems to be doing battle with constricting workshop rites and formulas ... The characters tend to be stuck in an unhappy emotional standstill—'waiting to be a different person,' as one puts it. The stories have little action, and their central metaphors are lit up in neon ... What's distinctive about Ms. Evans's voice is most apparent in her best story, 'The King of a Vast Empire,' which takes on severe familial dysfunction in a dry, funny way ... Now that Ms. Evans has gotten the requisite stories about minor-key, quarterlife dejection out of the way, she can move on to the hard work of developing the individual style she clearly possesses.
What makes the stories in Danielle Evans’s debut short-story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, remarkable is how the characters, whether knowingly or unwittingly, play both victim and accomplice in events that reroute their lives ... To make a narrator unreliable is to make him or her human.
Evans has a few of the problems typical of young short-story writers, but for the most part, this is a collection of perfectly conceived little tales that look at underexposed corners of American life ... The biggest issue with Suffocate is that nearly every story features a similar protagonist ... This would be a bigger problem, but the stories’ plots take Evans’ signature character into fascinating new places and relationships, and she’s adroit at creating supporting characters ... Nothing Evans does is wildly original, but each of Suffocate’s eight stories announces that she’s found the territory she knows, and marked it out with sophistication and terrific writing.
Danielle Evans has an impressive ear for the emotional rhythms of teenage girls and twentysomething women ... 'Virgins,' like the other stories in the collection, explores racial and sexual politics-topics that could veer into melodrama but don’t here. In fact, Evans is sometimes too restrained, like in the story 'Harvest' ... Even with these minor missteps, Evans’s voice is well-developed, and the stories are consistently engaging and surprising; a highly recommended read for this fall.
What really makes these eight stories stand out, however, is Evans’ ability to capture weighty issues like race and class with a mix of subtlety and humor ... Most of the stories’ plots present familiar conflicts ... Yet because Evans creates characters with such compelling viewpoints, each of the stories feels like authentic and new takes on contemporary society ... Unlike many debut short story collections, none of the stories seem as if they are fresh out of a writing workshop -- they've got more maturity than that. Evans’ wry humor contributes to the honesty in these stories, as the working class characters resemble real. So while the stories themselves are firmly rooted in contemporary America, the meaning they carry is artfully timeless.
Written with what readers can now see is Evans’ characteristic insight, humor and craftsmanship, ['Virgins'] is just one of the gems in a polished collection ... Evans takes as her subject people in transition: adolescents, children split between divorced parents, college graduates drifting between partners and jobs ... Moral ambiguity is explored beautifully in the best of these stories as well as the deeply felt moments of choice and regret. Evans is young to be so wise, but that youth is to the reader’s benefit; she is a writer we hope to be hearing from for a long time.
Armed with no easy answers but plenty of bad choices, the talented, too-smart-for-their-own-good protagonists are painfully aware of the consequences of their actions, even when they think they have no better choice ... The moral ambiguity of Evans’s achingly believable world finds its best expression in the devastating final story, 'Robert E. Lee is Dead' ... A welcome new talent—with a funny and dark take on being black in America.
The territory Evans covers in her debut collection may be small, but she owns it. Her main characters are almost all teen girls and young women who struggle with disorder, and the reader is given close access to each one's interior, from which the muted plots originate ... The stories are beautifully observed, though their similarities in theme and voice make them better read individually than together.