you never want to put too much pressure on a writer, but here goes: if Nancy Lee makes the right decisions -- and writes a novel as good as her stories -- she will be huge. Dead Girls is a collection of disturbing short pieces by the Vancouver-based writer, detailing in pointed, unflinching prose the lives of street people or soon-to-be street people, the characters they touch and the families they've left behind.
A high schooler pimps his girlfriend to help his pal lose his virginity. A tattoo artist falls for the homeless woman who stumbles into his shop. In the title story, a mother falls apart when her daughter runs away.
What these and the other stories share is a serious sense of dread. And yet, though bad things happen, human goodness peeks through. A guy tries to pick up a high school girl but doesn't press it when she says no. Danger beckons, but Lee's young girls don't always follow dumbly.
In Sisters, for example, Lee gets under the skin of a teenager whose desire would be dangerous if she didn't have that spark of self-preservation. Her sister is not so lucky.
In the background of all the stories, a serial killer is on the loose in the city. Lee -- plainly moved by the over 50 murders allegedly connected to a now infamous pig farm -- has written a book that has an unforgettable sense of urgency. Remember the name.
She reads with Gayla Reid, whose new book, Closer Apart: The Ardara Variations, is also very good, and Shaena Lambert on Wednesday (April 24). See Readings.
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dead girls by Nancy Lee (McLelland and Stewart), 283 pages, $22.99 paper. Rating: NNNNN