Belle Boggs grew up in Virginia's Tidewater region, in a rural area near the Mattaponi River inhabited by hardscrabble whites, blacks and American Indians. Her respect for that land and its people, as well as a profound understanding of what's unique and what's universal about them, shine through in Mattaponi Queen, her debut collection of linked short stories... The quality and power of this young writer's imagination and writing are such that even if you've never been to that area, never plan to go, don't know, don't even care, where it is, you can't help but be snared good by these stories and characters ... That's Boggs' gift, for infusing mundane moments with magic. It's what the finest fiction does for us, helps us see what we might otherwise not. Belle Boggs' arrival is a gift to those who read looking for just such insight.
The Mattaponi is formed by the confluence of four small rivers, and the author employs it deftly as a metaphorical merging of working-class folks of every race and ethnicity. She braids the stories together with recurrent characters and locales, but the stories nimbly evade the first-collection pitfall of too much sameness ... The stories are not heavily plotted, and Boggs doesn’t always find satisfying exits, but even in those that seem to tread closest to cliché...she writes with subtlety, empathy and command, so that every page features small surprises: jolts of recognition, pungent dialogue, keen observations ... Unfussy, understated and richly varied stories—a promising debut.
With two exceptions, all the stories in Mattaponi Queen are set in King William or King and Queen County, many of them on or near the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in King William ... State Route 30 serves as an avenue of escape, a road to redemption, or a pathway to acceptance and love for many of the characters ... These characters manage to make their way in a fallen world, often within sight of the Edenic banks of the Mattaponi River, and some even achieve a semblance of happiness and joy ... In reading about these familiar places, you might spot some familiar faces of people confronting life’s adversities and searching for love and understanding. Indeed, you might find yourself reflected in the pages of this remarkable collection of stories.
Mattaponi Queen, Belle Boggs's flawless debut collection and 2009 Bakeless Fiction Prize winner, contains a series of interconnected stories about the inhabitants of the Mattaponi Indian Reservation and bordering Virginia counties. It's the kind of place where people tend to settle with decades of secrets, even if they had once envisioned living somewhere else ... Boggs's landscape informs the tone of the stories and its protagonists alike. The reservation was just like anywhere else, trailers and double-wides and clapboard ranchers set on weedy lawns far off the black asphalt road ... Each of the stories in the debut collection can stand alone, something many writers aspire to yet few achieve with such success. The protagonists aren't merely hardscrabble people trying to get by, they're trying to make sense of their lives and where they fit in the space of the world beyond the neighboring counties.
...for though the stories contained in Mattaponi Queen comprise Boggs’ debut, they give the impression of a writer who has been lingering in our midst for many years ... She is not a stylist whose isolated sentences will jump off of the page, but when taken as a whole the reader learns to appreciate them in the same manner one might marvel at the individual thread so as to fully understand the tapestry it helps to create, and her writing possesses a gravitas and earnestness that belies her youth ...Boggs’s work is Faulknerian in its consistency ...in Boggs’ world time and progress are the enemy, bringing with them more issues, problems and fears that will hang in dubiously in the air like the dense humidity commonly smothering the Virginia landscape ...Boggs has a knack for capturing both the comedy and absurdity in all levels of human relationships.
Boggs’s stories are connected subtly and organically, filled with damaged creatures who live out their tough, wise-cracking existences in Virginia’s semi-rural Mattaponi River region — in its reservation and nearby towns... It takes Boggs twelve words to point to one of the themes of the collection: desertion ... As if to say all the fragile creatures of Boggs’s world — parents, children, husbands, and wives — dodge what dangers they can to survive in the midst of their aching loneliness. Sometimes they find grace ... Intimately familiar with the strange soil from which they grow, each of Boggs’s characters makes fine, heartbreaking attempts to do just that.
Eastern Virginia tributaries converge in these inter-connected stories largely set on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation, and they reflect that mix of rushing waters, where heritages become indistinguishable ...created funny, but understated, characters and her sharp, clear voice seems suited to stories relatives swap on slightly rickety wooden lawn furniture. They are unvarnished, but full of contradictions and twists of life. ... Inhabitants of this world Boggs has created come together in a bewitching debut.
Even in this, her debut collection, Belle Boggs displays limitless empathy for her characters and their concerns and conflicts ...as modest as they are all-consuming, illustrating the type of lives forgotten about by the majority of Americans, showing readers how people live ... Mattaponi Queen falters when it rehashes the obvious and clichéd ... These may be realistic portrayals of life on the Reservation but they never show us anything unexpected or surprising. Luckily, such stories are few and far between, and for the most part, Boggs guides her characters down more nuanced paths ... Her superior attention to detail and yeoman-like prose is a joy to read on the page. People read debut story collections for exactly this reason: to witness firsthand the arrival of a talented new voice.