Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Twenty Grand and Other Tales of Love and Money by Rebecca Curtis








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The baker’s dozen short stories in this debut collection of Rebecca Curtis titled, Twenty Grand and Other Tales of Love and Money display great literary talent. I was most impressed by the way in which Curtis can create and present a complex character with depth in a few pages. Many of the characters are young women leading bleak lives. The best short story writers lead readers to say, “Wow” as the story ends. In this collection, most readers will say “Wow” more than once. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of the story titled, “To the Interstate,” pp. 49-51:


I couldn’t believe we were getting away, my friend and I—sister, if you like. She was my sister. Somehow she’d got­ten a car. It was one of those twenty-year-old Chevrolets or Lincoln Town Cars, it was like a boat, by which I mean I can see why people say those cars are like boats. The outside was cream with teak paneling, the seats were pale leather and somewhat cold even though the sun was shining, and the inside was big and tall enough to climb around in. I’d been on a boat once, and it had flown up and down the river beyond my control.

My sister picked me up on a street downtown, not a street near the home, so we were really getting away. For years I had written her letters, begging her to help me get out. I never doubted she would. We’d always helped each other no matter what. When she lived in the home, she argued with anyone who wanted to hit me and sometimes she combed my hair. And before we were in the home, when she shot the man, we said I did it. That was her idea, because I was younger. We both wanted him dead. And I probably would have done it myself, if I wasn’t so scared of him and if I wasn’t only six. I didn’t mind, because for so long we were together in the home. Then she got out. She was gone. I waited as long as I could. Then I wrote letters. They weren’t very good letters, but they expressed my desire that she help me get out of the home. When she didn’t answer, I wrote more letters. Eventually she wrote, Don’t contact me again. I wrote very small, short letters. She wrote, Don’t write me again. Then I wrote that I would really rather die than stay in the home and she said that she would get me to the interstate. All we needed to do, she said, was get me to the interstate. I’d jumped from the roof, taken the dog path, and waited downtown near the gun store, where she’d told me to wait. Now I was sit­ting in the back. She was sitting in the front. I would have done anything for her. She was going fast. My idea was, we should go both far and fast, so we would really get away, but I noticed we were circling through the town. I didn’t understand why.

I said, Do we need gas?

Yes, she said. We need gas.

I still hoped we might get out of town before we got the gas, but ahead was a red light, and that’s when I saw the homeless men. There were two, by the light, and by the way they were standing I knew they’d try to get in the car. It’s not that I hate homeless men and wish they were dead. It’s more I know they hate me and wish I were dead.

Lock the door, I said. Then I pressed the lock myself. It was a long silver knob on the door. When I pushed it, it only went a little way down. My sister didn’t say anything, but I felt safe because I thought the doors were locked. My sister had a determined look on her face. I thought she was deter­mined we would get away. As soon as she stopped at the light, both homeless men walked toward the car. I felt scared, but I thought what would happen was that they’d try to open the door and be humiliated, because the doors would be locked. The door next to me opened. I wanted to close it but if I did it would shut on the man’s groin and I knew that would make him mad. He got in the car. The other one got in the front.

These are the kind of locks where you have to push them down really far, my sister said, pushing one down really far to illustrate. We were still at the red light.

Thanks for not slamming the door on me, the homeless man next to me said. That would have hurt.

No problem, I said.

You know those handicapped buses? he said.

I nodded.

Well, he said, now they have doors that open up really suddenly, so all the handicapped people trying to get inside get knocked on their asses.

I nodded. He wasn’t handicapped but I guessed he was probably friends with a lot of handicapped people, because he was homeless.


Prior to this collection, I had read some of Curtis in The New Yorker, and noted her skills at that time. On reading 13 stories at once, I was able to appreciate better the scope of her talent, and her ability to master the short story form while presenting the complexity of life through interesting characters.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2007 issue of Executive Times


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