Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Stop That Girl by Elizabeth McKenzie


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)




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Elizabeth McKenzie presents nine stories featuring the life of Ann Ransom from childhood to adulthood, in her new novel, Stop That Girl. While each story stands on its own, the connection through character provides an exposition similar to that of a novel. Here’s an excerpt, from the end of the story titled, “Let Me Take You Down,” pp. 112-118:


That summer, the least of it was my classes. The bird-of-paradise woman increased my hours, and I was spending whole afternoons with her. I fed the birds-of-paradise with fish emulsion and kept all weeds at bay I learned how to separate overcrowded clumps and start new colonies in various corners of the yard. I maintained beds of annuals and pruned a vibrant eugenia hedge. I rescued plums from the birds and wove tendrils of jasmine onto a bald fence. My ear clicked and crackled the faster I worked, but all the industry made the bird-of-paradise woman look out her back door and smile.

While I ate my tuna sandwich full of pickles, she often mentioned her dead husband, Conrad. “Conrad used to hate weekends,” she’d say “He detested this town, he was so tired of all the students and coffee shops.” “Conrad used to sit there all weekend; I couldn’t get him to budge.” And Conrad had complained about her cooking. “It was never as good as his mother’s, but that man could really wolf down a meal.”

I was tempted to ask what she’d seen in Conrad, but no matter what she told me, she spoke of him without rancor. I came from a family of anger and impulse. I couldn’t imag­ine myself living for years with someone like Conrad. Or could I?

It stayed hot those days on the peninsula, the kind of scorching weather that kept the grass brown until the rains fell again in winter. I had a vision that kept me happy, of living in a creaky Victorian in San Francisco someday with a bunch of my friends. I’d have my own phone, and an orange cat sitting in a wicker chair in the sun. We’d all have odd jobs and come home at night with stories to tell.

Then, the last day of summer school, after paying off the college bursar and the ear specialist, I rode my bike over to say goodbye to the bird-of-paradise woman. She had pre­pared a plump sack of oatmeal cookies for my journey, and I threw my arms around her, wishing for a moment she was my own grandmother, or at least someone I didn’t have to say goodbye to. I had the impulse to love somebody too quickly and desperately, I could see that much. I’d have to be careful of that.

There were parties, address exchanges. “What’re you going to do about Archie?” Hannah asked.

“Not much. I have a lot of studying to do this year” I said.

“I wish we got to know each other better. Let’s for sure stay in touch, okay?”

“For sure!”

She gave me a Smith College T-shirt that said A CEN­TURY OF WOMEN ON TOP. She’d gained early admittance, knew her life’s course. Party girl that she was, she wanted to go into the diplomatic corps and later did just that. But for now we all packed and vacated the dorm one Saturday morning before noon, just kids going home, and Hannah’s young, attractive parents gave me and my bike a lift to the bus station. They made jokes about how in the world had I put up with a scoundrel like Hannah, I must be a saint, and so forth, but they were beaming at their daughter and their daughter was beaming at them. It was a love fest. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car.

Roy picked me up twelve hours later. I was stuffed with oatmeal cookies, dirty and tired and sore. “Welcome home,” he said, jamming my things into the back. “How’d it all go?”

I had to turn my head and point my good ear at him. “Not bad,” I said. “How’s everything at home?”

“Not too good,” he said. “We’ll probably start looking to move.”


“No use hassling over it all. We’re not attached to the place anyway. Are you?”

“It’s my senior year,” I said. “I don’t want to change schools.”

“We’ll try to keep you at the same school,” he said. “Don’t worry about that.”

“How’s Mom?”

“Your mother is a great human being.”

“I mean, is she feeling okay?”

“She has a lot on her plate. No more trouble; do we have an understanding?”

“I just got home!”

“Well, do we?”

“Yes! God!”

Soon we pulled up in the driveway of our now desig­nated non-home. The sight of it made me sick, like being greeted by a crippled old dog you’ve decided to take out be­hind the barn. Mom and Kathy rushed out to meet me. There were hugs and hellos all around.

“Did you have the time of your life?” Mom asked.

“I hope not.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“Did you bring me anything?” Kathy said.

I did have something for Kathy, and I groped numbly for it in my bag.

“What is it?” she asked when I handed it to her.

“A gerenuk.”

“What’s a gerenuk?”

“It’s an animal from Africa. I thought maybe you could start a collection.”

She frowned at the gerenuk. “One’s probably enough.”

Mom said, “Behold,” and pointed to the sycamore, which had grown in my absence to further obscure the view.

“Oh, well,” I said.

“Oh, well, is right,” she said. “We’re moving before any­thing else goes wrong!”

We all gathered around the kitchen table, and it was nice because they wanted to hear about my adventures, though I deleted the ear thing and substituted “a guy on my hail” for Archie in the story of my door. Mom seemed shocked by some of the things she hadn’t known. “You had a job?” she said. “You went to this woman’s home off cam­pus? What kind of person was this? You ate there?” After she calmed down, since, after all, I’d only just arrived, she said, “Well, she sounds like a very nice woman. You’ll have to send her a thank-you card immediately.” And since I’d only just arrived, I couldn’t say, “Back off!” could I? But I made them laugh, describing the girl from Orinda and her Nixon-mania, among other tales of dorm life. It was fun making them laugh.

That evening, unpacking in my room, eager to call my friends and announce my return, wondering what I’d be facing next, I found myself gazing idly for a moment at my shelf of owls. Something was missing: my beautiful nozzle! I ran to the den and asked Mom if she’d seen it.

“The nozzle on your shelf? I needed it.”

I ran outside. We had a bunch of hoses in our yard, sta­tioned in various places. A thick aqua-colored one, a thin-skinned dark green one, a short stiff one, a crackled one, one with a stripe. In the moonlight, I could see each had a nozzle attached. While the hoses were different, the noz­zles looked identical.

“Which hose did you use it on?” I cried, running back in. “I don’t remember,” my mother said. “Why does it mat­ter?”

“You’ve got to. Was it the one by the door?”

“Maybe. I honestly can’t say”

“Was it the one out by the fence, where the tomatoes are?”

“Ann, calm down.”

“Come on, think!”

Mom said, “I don’t remember, and you’re making me ex­tremely tense.”

I started to cry. My life was a ruin. There was no hope for me anytime, anywhere.

“What’s going on, was it a special nozzle?” she said.


“Did Archie give it to you?” she asked, smoothing my


“No!” I said. “I hate Archie,” I added.

“I’m not surprised,” Mom said. “He was arrogant and narcissistic, and I couldn’t stand him, frankly.”

“God, couldn’t you have asked me, about the nozzle?”

My mother said, “You should have hidden it away, if it was so important.”

“Oh, great, is that the way to live life?”

“Please go get some rest,” she said.



I tossed. I turned. I was full of horrible feelings, feelings I couldn’t name. I wanted to attack something. I had to at­tack something. I decided to attack the tree across the street.

I crept out of bed, slipped on a T-shirt and jeans, let my­self out the back door. I moved stealthily down the drive­way and across the street to inspect the small tree that truly was starting to block the so-called view. Up close, I could see it was larger than I’d thought. The trunk was a few inches thick at the base, and when I tried wiggling it, it barely budged.

No matter. I pushed it, kicked it, twisted it, threw my­self at it. I ripped off its lower branches and bent it to the ground. I jumped on it, cracked it, split it. In so doing, I began to expose some of the roots.

I sawed and pounded and hacked at them with a stone. I tore at them. I lacerated whatever part of any root I could see. After nearly an hour, I was finally able to wrest the tree from the ground. At about twelve feet long, it was heavy.

I ran down the street, pulling the carcass along. It scraped the asphalt, leaves ripped and scattered, twigs jumped and snapped. At last I stood at the top of a small ravine, a dark area between two houses. I threw the mur­dered sapling like a javelin, and gravity brought it to rest with a shivering thud.

Then I walked home. My work was done. The night was warm, as it was late August in the valley. I lifted my T-shirt and let the air touch my skin, blotted my face with the hem of it. Then I found a place on the curb in front of our house and sat a moment, letting my heart slow down. My hands were grazed and torn but I hardly cared. I was still young and silly enough to wonder if what I’d just done might make a difference. Keep us from having to move again. Change the course of history. I couldn’t wait for morning, when Mom would look out and realize her view was no longer being obstructed. At first I imagined her excitement about it, then wondered how long it would take her to find something else to worry about. I planned on keeping a per­fectly straight face.


McKenzie creates tension in these stories through the ways in which Ann struggles to life a normal life, but ends up becoming as unconventional as her mother, whose example she tried not to emulate. Stop That Girl has some good writing, and some of the stories are very good. Others seem underdone for the short story genre, but fit into the novel.


Steve Hopkins, November 21, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2005 issue of Executive Times


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