Reviewed by David Lewis
The Girl Who Cried Diamonds & Other Stories
by Rebecca Hirsch Garcia
October 3, 2023, $18.95 U.S./$24.95 CDN, 208pgs
“I think we are only afraid of ourselves,” the doctor said slowly.
“No,” Luke said. “Of seeing ourselves clearly and without disguise.” -Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
A Rebecca Hirsch Garcia story revises the formula: Get your character up a tree; throw stones at them; get them down gracefully. While the scenarios are tense and the writing is graceful, Garcia makes no promises to get her characters down from the proverbial tree. The stories in this debut collection range from realist to magical realist to outright horror. But regardless of genre, these character-driven pieces explore uncomfortable truths and show how patriarchal power structures encourage violence against women, physical and psychological. Each story has new characters confronting different forms of abuse and betrayal. Two high schoolers dealing with body issues bully each other with a mix of fascination and revulsion. A gifted teenager starts hearing a high-pitched ringing from a mysterious set of keys in her father’s car. When a mother of two learns to accept the disappointments in her marriage, she turns into a cloud. Daughters plot kidnappings with sociopathic fathers and a woman is stalked by a man whose life she saved. In a Garcia story, finding solutions often unearths more complex problems.
While there are some wonderful male characters in this collection, my God, there are some prime examples of toxicity as well. In the titular story, “The Girl Who Cried Diamonds,” the main character, a girl who not only cried diamonds but who also “bled rubies, who pissed gold, and who shat onyx,” leaves her birthplace to stop her brother from moving to the city for work. Unsurprisingly, her gem-producing body is exploited by a host of unscrupulous men. While this story is most obviously an allegory of colonialism, it’s balanced with a reimaging of the biblical story of the Fall of ahem Man. All the innocence of the Garden of Eden is on the first page:
The Girl was born in a tiny pueblo, an ancient place sheltered so deep among the hills and surrounded by long stretches of desert as to seem foreign to those who lived in the cities. Still, forgotten as that place was, ignored as it was, unloved as it was, to the people who were born to that corner of the earth the land was beloved to them and held a special significance. It was considered a holy place, a sainted place. No wonder then that when the Girl was born and cried her first tears, tears that turned to diamonds smaller than dried, brittle lentils, she was regarded with only brief curiosity, before the people went back to the business of living.
The other stories in the collection are less allegorical and more focused on specific characters, but they still have a wide scope. In “Common Animals” the narrator describes how her partner turns into a wolf during arguments:
It’s your fault had been the last thing he said before he turned, veins bulging from his forehead. It’s your fault. Flecks of his spittle landed delicately on my wrist. The echoes of that missive ran round and round my head as I stared at its snout, its snapping jaws. Well, I thought blankly to myself, now you’ve done it.
Garcia revisits the classic werewolf story to ask why we stay in relationships even when they’re abusive. Men act as if consequences don’t apply to them, while women are expected to make intelligent, reasonable and courageous decisions without fail. And often whether they do or don’t, they still face violence, ridicule or death. Even the very name “Common Animals” asks us how much violence we’re willing to normalize. How commonly do we accept abuse where there should be love?
This collection doesn’t just explore the violence men commit on women; it also shows the fragile solidarity between women. “An Occupation” is a wonderfully troubling example. Isa arrives home to see her door is open half an inch. She’s deeply disturbed even though hardly anything seems to have been stolen. Isa’s mother hangs up on her when she calls in a panic and the police officer that examines her intact apartment is skeptical.
And maybe everything looked to be in the same disordered order it had been when she had gone out, but there was a difference in the way the books were stacked and the way her clothes were tossed, even if they aped the way she had left them that morning, casting the same shadows as if they were not in some way fundamentally changed.
Isa’s feeling of violation is all the worse in that it’s so difficult to prove, opening her story, and herself, to reinterpretation and attacks from the building’s super and the tenants.
But of all Garcia’s stories, “Mother” is the most terrifying. In this brilliantly written nightmare, the narrator is a girl who lives with her father—a sociopath—as well as her brother and a Mother. The opening scene does a wonderful job of inverting the power dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship and filling the reader with a sense of dread.
But when I go to kiss [Mother] on the cheek and bid her good night she recoils from my lips. And when I say, Good night, Mother, as she is walking from my room, she turns around. Her eyes catch mine in the vanity mirror and as we stare at each other she says, I’m not your fucking mother.
Mother is right to be angry and scared. The narrator thinks it’s completely normal that a line of different women have appeared and disappeared from her home. When Father takes one away, they find a new one and chain her to the walls. This story isn’t about the unfeeling father and brother who see women as little more than servants and playthings. The purest horror comes from the daughter accepting her father’s vision of the world.
You won’t always get neatly tied up narratives in The Girl Who Cried Diamonds and Other Stories, but that makes the stories feel all the more real and urgent. Garcia has written some fine realist pieces in the collection, but she seems most vibrant with thrillers and speculative stories. Still, that could be my personal biases speaking. As Ursula K. Le Guin said in The Dispossessed: “No matter how intelligent a man is, he can’t see what he doesn’t know how to see.” After reading this collection, I hear an extra-loud emphasis on man in Le Guin’s quote. For that, I’m particularly grateful to Garcia’s book. It didn’t make me see a different world. It made me see the world differently.
About the reviewer: David Lewis’ fiction and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Joyland Magazine, Barrelhouse, The Weird Fiction Review, Dark Horses, 21st Century Ghost Stories Volume II, Chelsea Station, The Fish Anthology, Liars’ League London,Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 9, Fairlight Books, Paris Lit Up, Wicked Horror and others. Originally from Oklahoma he now lives in France with his husband and dog.
First published at The Masters Review