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Chapbook Review, Put Your Head in My Lap: Stories by Claudia Smith


Put Your Head in My Lap: Sto­ries
by Clau­dia Smith

Port­land, OR: Future Tense Books, 2009

Clau­dia Smith’s 16 sto­ries in Put Your Head in My Lap can and should be read in one sit­ting. From the first line of the first story–“My son asked me to tape his hands and feet”–to the final sen­tence of the last story–“It hap­pened, it hap­pened, she’ll say and you can’t take it back”–readers are drawn into a world that man­ages to be both sur­real and real in a way that is very in-your-face.

Many of her sto­ries have sim­i­lar ele­ments: love tinged with sad­ness, loss and sep­a­ra­tion, sin­gle moth­ers try­ing to raise their chil­dren, peo­ple deal­ing with dis­ap­point­ment. The sto­ries are heart­break­ing in their hon­esty. Noth­ing is sugar-coated and while read­ers may feel the need to look away from the raw emo­tion dis­played on the pages, their eyes can’t help but be drawn back. 

In “Snow Squall,” a young mar­ried cou­ple is trapped in their tiny apart­ment dur­ing a ter­ri­ble snow storm. Though out of work and money, they are doing their best to cel­e­brate the husband’s birth­day when the wife real­izes she’s hav­ing a mis­car­riage. He tries to com­fort her but she shuts him out, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. She locks her­self in the bath­room and tells him not to talk to her. The pain she feels is pal­pa­ble through such lines as this one:

“Daniel, don’t say any­thing,” she says, “please just don’t say any­thing. Because right now I feel like I really hate you. And I know I don’t but right now I absolutely do.“ 

The hus­band shows his love for her by not get­ting angry and by try­ing to find a neigh­bor who will take them to the hos­pi­tal or at least let him use a phone to call an ambu­lance. No one does, though, and when he returns the bleed­ing has stopped and the baby is gone. Some­how this seems to close the rift that had opened between them and they sit in a chair together, watch­ing the snow storm, each com­ing to the con­clu­sion “that this is prob­a­bly their worst moment.” The story is can­did and far from uplift­ing, leav­ing read­ers to won­der if the cou­ple will sur­vive this “worst moment” and come out of it for the bet­ter or if this will be the final straw in a series of dis­ap­point­ments.

My favorite story is “Hook”, which actu­ally is a bit of a devi­a­tion from Smith’s typ­i­cal pieces in this col­lec­tion. The story is about a teenaged girl who “hooks” a man she encoun­ters in a drug­store. Dressed like a school­girl, she flirts and acts younger than she is to entice the man to have sex with her. She lies about how she and her mother need money and he’ll have to pay her first. They go to a cheap, gar­ish hotel room, the per­fect set­ting for their trans­gres­sion, which ends up being more inno­cently heart­break­ing than vul­gar. The man is des­per­ate and dis­traught as he rubs against her, both of them still clothed. When he is fin­ished he is near tears, repen­tant, and she tries to com­fort him. 

So don’t feel bad,” I repeated. And pulled his sad face into my lap. I felt some­thing open and shut inside me. A phys­i­cal open­ing and clos­ing, like a valve in my heart. It wasn’t love that I felt, of course it couldn’t have been. But it was some­thing like love, a mix­ture of grate­ful­ness and yearn­ing.

What is espe­cially inter­est­ing to me about this piece is that, while they are both affected by this encoun­ter, each comes out of it dif­fer­ently. The man will prob­a­bly carry this regret with him for the rest of his life, while the girl seems some­how freer, more obser­vant, and is acutely aware of the fact that she has two hun­dred dol­lars tucked into her shoe. 

Put Your Head in My Lap is a col­lec­tion that will stay with read­ers for a long time after they’ve fin­ished the final page. The sto­ries embed them­selves like seeds, slowly grow­ing larger until you find your­self think­ing about them at ran­dom inter­vals and hop­ing the sto­ries you write are as emo­tion­ally stir­ring as Clau­dia Smith’s.

About the Author

Whitaker.jpgRachel Whitaker is a degree-can­di­date in Rose­mont College’s Pub­lish­ing Master’s pro­gram. She has had sev­eral film reviews and arti­cles pub­lished in Ticket Mag­a­zine as well as the Ambler Gazette, both in Mont­gomery County, Penn­syl­va­nia. Upon grad­u­a­tion, she hopes to work as a copy­ed­i­tor. Orig­i­nally from South­east­ern Ohio, she cur­rently lives in Nor­ris­town, PA with her fiancé and their two cats.

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