BY MEGAN BUTCHER
The first story in Radium Girl, Sofi Papamarko’s debut collection of short stories, took my breath away. When I
turned to the last page of “Margie and Lu,” a story about teenaged, conjoined twins exploring their sexuality, the air quite literally rushed out of my body.
While this story hit me the hardest, most of the stories in Radium Girl are about people or situations that many writers would avoid—and this is to Papamarko’s credit. She has an empathy for her characters that makes it impossible not to be drawn in.
Papamarko is at her best when the details veer into the surreal, or when her narratives capture moments of uncanniness.
The ground seems to slip out from under the reader’s feet a little as you enter a bedroom full of porcelain dolls in “Tiny Girls,” or witness changes in a still photo that threads its way through “In Heaven, Everything Is Fine,” or take in the abundance of mannequin parts found by Margie and Lu.
Occasionally the end of a story feels like a door being shut just a bit too hard (“Everyone You Love Is Dead”) or what is supposed to be a twist seems obvious (“Something to Cry About”). If there were, say, 20 percent more ambiguity in a few of the stories, I think their echoes would last a bit longer.
Overall, Papamarko’s writing is solid, with some moments verging into excellence. This isn’t a book that will stun you with twisting complex sentences and an expansive vocabulary, but who wouldn’t want to keep reading a story that starts “When I got up from my nap, the park was on fire”?
Papamarko’s talent lies in using everyday language to capture her character’s personality in quick strokes, as in the story “Underwater Calisthenics,” where the pregnant and teenaged main character says, “At church, the other girls asked God for clear skin and Friday night dates. I asked for blood and cramps.”
Papamarko skillfully uses diction, sentence structure and even punctuation to create a window into the human psyche.
What you see through it isn’t always beautiful, but it is always interesting.