Emily Books Book Club: The Terrible Girls -The Toast

Skip to the article, or search this site

Home: The Toast

If you are not familiar with the Emily Books Book Club, or simply have that condition where you struggle to form short-term memories, you may click here. Maybe you already did! This month, Ruth Curry (as the most fervent proponent of THE TERRIBLE GIRLS) and I had a delightful conversation about how good and different it is. If you haven’t already, you can buy it here, and there’s a one-day 20% discount if you type in, well, TERRIBLEGIRLS.

The girls are terrible, you see. Please enjoy.

Nicole – Oh, man, I’m so stoked for this.

Ruth – me too!

Nicole – This is one of my favourite Emily-Book-things, in that I would never have bought this book, but am so glad I did.

Ruth – that’s awesome! i love this book too, it’s one of like three things about grad school that i liked

Nicole – Hahahaha. I do wish I’d read it ten years ago, though! I don’t have that many emotions anymore.

Ruth – yeah, it’s really intense. it goes to All The Places

Nicole – I was so overwhelmed by the intensity of love and grief and the physicality of it! HEARTS and viscera. Severed limbs.

Ruth – i love that.

Nicole Cliffe – Houses representing abandoned love. It’s so great. Things it brought me back to: Jeanette Winterson (obvi), Anne Carson, Diane Schoemperlen, this Canadian novelist…

Ruth – i haven’t read Diane Schoemperlen but I do see the connections between Winterson/Carson, the way that they evoke the body is very similar; this idea that emotional pain can take on a very physical dimension. that’s something i’ve often wished or alternately not wished for. like, when you are suffering inside so much, it seems wrong that it’s not visible the way something painful and exterior like, a broken arm is

Nicole – 100%. It also struck me that being made almost uncomfortable by the intensity is related to how we forget the experience of both kinds of pain so quickly. It just, when you are not in the immediacy of grief, it seems almost intrusive to read something like this.

Ruth – totally. i kind of wrote about that in the Emily Books app intro to this book, i happened to read it at a time when i was emotionally kind of synced up with the book, and it was both an incredible relief and hugely sad: it’s really hard to describe heartbreak and loneliness since they are essentially non-entities, absences, lacks, and this book somehow does it

Nicole – That great part from Stoppard’s The Real Thing about love being possessing intimate information, and then the loss of it

Ruth – right, i read something in an otherwise pretty-forgettable essay that the worst part of a relationship ending is the loss of the keeper of your shared history

Nicole – Yes. (I could do, like, fifteen minutes of Mountain Goats lyrics here, but will refrain.) I love the interlocking short stories. I like them more than novels at the moment.

Ruth – i love it for this material, because it’s so intense and overwhelming, it breaks it up a little while keeping the connections in the front of your mind. you can put it down and pick it back up, which is nice, when you’re rooting around in your pockets for a box of Kleenex or whatever

Nicole – I gulped it in a sitting, but theoretically that would have worked too.

Ruth – i feel like i’m making this book sound like such a downer! i feel obliged to point out that it is pretty funny, at times

Nicole – It is!

Ruth – or that the ending is one of the most bittersweet and hopeful yet honest things i’ve read

Nicole – Oh, God, and I’l direct people towards the online availability of the severed-arm story, Because it’s perfect and works alone. Yes, the ending.

Ruth – the first story too, although i’m not sure that’s online anywhere

Nicole – And then the full-on ORLANDO-y-ness of the lady bountiful portion. Because this book is mostly about love but also a little bit about capitalism, of course. I could also have said Russian Ark there, probably. This sense of glimpsing a fixed relationship within what could easily be a thousand-year rise and fall. The darkness of the society party, the bargains made, the unworthiness of a changeable lover, and the eternal wait for her return! It was so chewy and great.

Ruth – that sounds like Doctor Who!


Ruth – but everything is reminding me of Doctor Who at the moment

Nicole – hahahahahahhaahah I was not going to be the first to say it but it doesss

Ruth – the face of the lover changes but the identity stays the same

Nicole – if I had to guess where Rebecca Brown was from (she is from Seattle), I would have guessed she was either British or this very particular literary population we call “Southern Ontario Gothic”

Ruth – that sounds AWESOME, tell me more

Nicole – which is to say the weirder Margaret Atwood stuff, Diana S, again, and Timothy Findley…

Ruth –  there is a total gothic element here too. . . . .ghosts, mysterious houses, recursive journeys

Nicole – (GIRL, go read Not Wanted on the Voyage and Headhunter. You should actually see if you can get Headhunter for Emily Books. But back to capitalism.

Ruth – Yes! Capitalism! because in some ways this book is very dreamlike, but it is also rooted in a specific political reality

Nicole – Yes, The Struggle is always there. The big, empty homes, gardens. And what I find interesting, too, is that our narrator/heroine, etc. is alternately a true believer in the struggle and would also jettison it in a heartbeat for the loved one, but when betrayed, pulls the struggle mantle back over herself

Ruth – the exploitative nature of certain economic and emotional relationships

Nicole – coffee-cart girls. My favourite thing, maybe. I was so happy to see it pop back up. Because, like you said, the first story and the severed arm story are such great unique entities. And “coffee-cart girls” is absolutely a foundational metaphor here. Exploitation, servility, waiting. WAITING. I mean, this book could have been called “Waiting.”

Ruth – oh god. my favorite line from The Terrible Girls is about waiting

Nicole – Which one!! I will almost certainly agree with you.

Ruth – i posted it on my tumblr because um

Nicole – Do not apologize for tumblring!

Ruth – i can’t read it without tears springing to my eyes. *almost* forgivably. there are some people you can forgive almost anything of

Nicole – No, that’s good! That’s great, you are supposed to be feeling that. I felt like the worst person, reading and going “oh, I used to feel that much about stuff.” Not like, I’m a robot now, or anything

Ruth – well, maybe you are a happier person now!

Nicole – I am definitely happier now, but that glorious horrible yawp of emotion

Ruth –  i like that books like this exist, they help us revisit places that might not be open to us anymore

Nicole – You can get nostalgic even for heartbreak, I think.

Ruth – god, humans can get nostalgic for ANYTHING 

Nicole – I do love that this one is called “The Terrible Girls.” it’s perfect. because it gradually emerges that it’s more terrible as in terrifying, not, like “two bad girls,” or whatever

Ruth – right! like how awesome also means ‘inspiring awe’ in like a religious or existential sense

Nicole – And that love makes us into killers, too. Real love. The potential of being a killer, or a monster, or someone who is no longer domesticated.

Ruth – being pushed to the edges of what’s human, like, love is both the most humanizing and dehumanizing thing

Nicole – this thing we’re all “lalalala love is great” but that it is the most destructive thing possible if something goes wrong with it. And knowing how easily you could rip someone apart with your hands for this other person. And then sit cheerfully filing your nails in prison for the rest of your life.

Ruth – yup. or allow yourself to be ripped apart, almost for sport. can we talk about the end a little bit? it’s not a spoiler
but i just love also how there is this redemption there, that love destroys us but the wreckage is salvageable. “it’s not what it was before”

Nicole – oooooof

Ruth – but it doesn’t matter. they came back to get it.

Nicole – And the details of how they prepared for it. Watching the woman’s back as she forded her way to the ruined city


Nicole – They had to!

Ruth – they had to!

Nicole – ON EMILY BOOKS now, in general. I just love how these choices are so radical, on some level. Not, like “radical books,” but that they all make women dangerous, and powerful

Ruth – oh yes. well, we are ;)

Nicole – Like I’m so happy (and this is cheesy, and shit) that I met Cassandra and the terrible girls. WE ARE

Ruth – cassandra. god.

Nicole – And King Kong Theory! CASSANDRA. I mean, Cassandra was my favourite book in years

Ruth – Cassandra is almost a perfect book to me

Nicole – I agree. I do not understand why it’s not one of the top five California Novels for people

Ruth – the descriptions of the ranch alone

Nicole – Like you should read Stegner, and this goddamn book. The water pump!


Nicole – And the perfect evocation of temperature, like linens and skin and glasses with ice in them. ughhh I loved it so much

Ruth – but yes, once emily and i sat down and came up with basically a tag cloud for all Emily Books and one of the tags was ‘not giving a fuck’

Nicole – YES

Ruth – or, hmm, it might have been ‘not giving a fuck about femininity’ either one works

linda gregggggg

Ruth – ooooffff. that’s beautiful. and terrible.

Add a comment

Skip to the top of the page, search this site, or read the article again