In a striking first collection of stories, Cris Mazza brings a startling vision to the familiar terrain of intimate relationships. The eleven stories in Animal Acts describe characters navigating an unsteady course through the turbulence of sexial desire. Set in unmistakably American landscapes - from sprawling West Coast cities to the dry, dusty scrub of rural Southern California - the work is populated by gym teachers, aging flower children, secretaries and artists - most of them strong, willful women.
The narrator of the title story holds the guests at a party spellbound with her fantastic retelling of another woman's perverse life - which may, in fact, be her own - thereby seducing a man who has previousle eluded her.
Mazza's arresting narrative structures and sharp sense of the absurd make for a dazzling debut collection.
"[Cris Mazza's fiction] would seem to be the work of a young person, but only because of its freshness. It's clarity and simplicity, however, suggest an older writer's attention and experience." —Grace Paley and Studa Terkel, Judges PEN/Nelson Algren Fiction Awards
"The stories contained in Cris Mazza's Animal Acts express an utterly original vision that is closer in spirit to Blue Velvet than to anything one is likely to encounter in the works of any of the "New Realists." Once you get beneath the deceotively simple surfaces of these stories you find yourself in a startling, disquieting world where daily "civilized" behavior clashes headlong with the fantastic, irrational aspects of ourselves normally hidden from public scrutiny. Mazza's writing style--with its precise rendering of exterior details, its dark humor, it's disturbing intensity - is perfectly suited to plumb the passions and mysteries lying barely concealed within the lives of her ordinary-seeming characters." —Larry McCaffery
Today she's buying chicken legs. They have wrinkled yellow skin and bumps where each feather was plucked. He says yellow means the bird was healthy. Someday I'm going to scream at her. I'm not going to buy anything again today. I drop the package of meat I've chosen. I didn't notice until I dropped it-I had picked up beef heart. I don't know why I still shop here. I'll have crackers and soda for supper. I'm going out at 5, then a guy's meeting me at my place around 9:30. I have to get up for work at 7, and have another date at noon. Most men at least say they like my smile. I wore braces for three years.
She tells the butcher he has the best legs in town. He says the loin roast isn't bad either. She's wearing pink stretch pants and a yellow T-shirt with a suitcase-sized purse over her arm. Her ass is huge too. My father probably still slaps my mother's behind sometimes, as some kind of joke. The butcher is talking while sharpening his cleaver. I feel ill.
This has been going on for a while, ever since I first saw her at the meat counter, the day after the last time I saw my father. She was smelling all the packages of ground beef. Then she laughed and hoisted her purse onto her should and point with a sausage finger to a steak that was a little out of reach. "He likes it rare," she said to the butcher. "I stop cooking it when it's still the color of his face." The butcher held the package up next to his own red face. "I see you're a raw-meat man too," she said. "And I'm a big eater," he answered. "Watch it, I'm a married woman!" she laughed, "with kids!"
My father just called to invite me to dinner and talk this over. I said, "How can I eat over there…I'm a vegetarian and you can't endure a meal without meat." Neither of us said anything for a minute, then I hung up.
I was in the hospital with food poisoning again yesterday. I considered calling my boss's lawyer and suing that grocery store, but I haven't bought anything for a long time. Then I was trying to remember if my boss even has a lawyer. He would if he knows what's good for him. He was supposed to come over last night. I wonder how long he knocked on the door. Then when he got home he probably told his wife he decided not to work on his book that evening in the office after all. Or he could've said he finished a chapter and was so happy with it he thought he'd come home early and celebrate. He always calls her and says he's writing his book when he comes to my place. He works on his book twice a month, one a week at the most-I didn't mince words. I told him what I tell everyone-monogamy only pretends to exist, why take the trouble to pretend? Some people can't understand that. Why bother explaining-what more could I say? " I'm considering what's best for me too, Dad-I've decided what I want and what I'm willing to do to get it."
"You sound like a whore, young lady." Maybe my boss found a whore last night. Once I told him I was going to call his wife back and tell her the truth. He said, "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
That's the trouble. There are more than two.