By Gretchen Gales
If you are looking for a short story and narrative poetry hybrid collection with unflinching power and zero regard for the status quo, Christine Sloan Stoddard’s Desert Fox by the Sea is the gut-punch of the reality of many. Stoddard juggles the intersections of multiracial, southern, and Latinx identity in this masterful collection. Reminiscent of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, with its honesty and snapshots of “behind the scenes” America, Stoddard uses both real and fantastical settings to examine marginalized identities through quick, sharp narratives.
Many of the pieces place the role of motherhood under a microscope, including the very first piece, “The Re-Coupling.” Stoddard’s nameless protagonist holds nothing back, asserting, “I did not lose the baby — she died.” The rest of the piece explores the complications of intimacy and closeness after the death of a wanted child. The piece is a sharp contrast to “Twenty-Six,” a daughter’s reflection on her mother’s suicide at the same age. The daughter hears the echoes of her mother’s cruel verbal abuse and grief over her deflating body and redefines her relationship with her mother, saying, “Everyone says I could be her twin because I look just like her. I say I might as well have been her twin because she never saw me as her daughter.” These pieces appear within the first few pages of the collection, preparing the reader for an unflinching look into both the proud and tragic aspects of embracing many marginalized identities at once.
Stoddard also masterfully blends the intersection of history with the current political atmosphere by highlighting the reality of the past not being so far in the past. This is blatantly observed in “Loving vs. Virginia,” a tribute poem in direct reference to the U.S. Supreme Court case over interracial marriage as a legitimate institution that doubles as a challenge towards ideology that keeps future Americans behind a wall. Many other pieces in the collection further unravel the legacy of systematic racism in the epicenter of America.
“Loving the White in Me” unravels the speaker’s complicated feelings towards their own identity, revealing that “White people want to know how brown I am. / Brown people want to know how white I am / because Donald Trump is threatening to build a wall.” Meanwhile, “The Theatre Department” is proof of the limited opportunities given to creative people of color, opening with “When you study acting as a biracial girl in the South, / you will never portray Scarlett O’Hara, / only ever Mammy.” The speaker finally comes to the conclusion that the only way to be on stage is to be backstage as a costume designer, further suggesting how as a society, people are willing to use the goods and services of people of color without properly acknowledging their critical role in everyday life.
The rest of the collection maintains its gutsy energy sparked from the beginning. Even if you’re a busy person, it is worth reading little by little, like an advocate’s advent calendar. So whether you’re looking for a new read or a validating mirror of your own life, Stoddard’s collection has something that will strike a chord with many readers.
by Christine Sloan Stoddard
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Gretchen Gales is a secondary English teacher and the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her written work has appeared in Ms., Huffington Post, Bustle, and more. Gretchen has also been interviewed for Her Campus as part of their “How She Got There” series, a segment on For Creative Girls, and an interview with the popular English major website Dear English Major. See more of Gretchen’s work at writinggales.wordpress.com and follow her on Instagram @writinggales.