When my sister saw that I was reading Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self she worried about me. Relax! I’m not a danger to myself or others. This slim volume is realistic fiction, not self-help.
This is a collection of eight short stories about young African-American women—and some men—navigating the difficult terrain of race, class, sexuality and coming-of-age. As the title implies, the characters face challenging situations in which they are their own worst enemies. Evans has a sharp wit and fresh voice that give an original spin to some age-old themes.
“Snakes” is my favorite of the bunch. A biracial woman reflects back on the fateful summer she spent with her rich, white, racist grandmother and beloved white cousin. “Snakes” makes you consider what a lasting impact a child’s split-second decision can have. It may be worth reading twice.
“Harvest” is also haunting. One beautiful, intelligent, healthy white Columbia University student sells her eggs to pay for her wardrobe and lifestyle. Her college roommates—equally beautiful, intelligent and healthy—cannot do the same. They are black and, simply put, there is no market for their eggs. The story of the ethics and economics of egg donation is complicated by an unwanted pregnancy. Evans deals gracefully with the stark contrast of one young woman being paid for her eggs while her friend considers paying for an abortion. The story’s ending is surprising and poignant.
Fans of women’s coming-of-age story collections like Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls or Julie Orringer’s How to Breathe Underwater will find much to savor in this collection. Although each of Evans’ stories feature different characters, plotlines and dilemmas, the stories occasionally blur together thematically. What Evans’ collection lacks in breadth it more than makes up for in depth. Help yourself out and give Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self a try.