Squib Review: Twenty Grand And Other Tales of Love And Money by Rebecca Curtis

September 13, 2007 | 2

A few months ago I read a story called “The Near-Son” in n+1. It engrossed me completely, right through to the punch-in-the-gut Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”-esque ending. The plotting, the pacing, and the narrator’s bizarre and fascinating affect (was she retarded – somehow not right in the head – or just distressingly honest?) were unlike anything I’d ever read.

cover“The Near-Son” is now among the inhabitants of Rebecca Curtis’ first collection of short stories, Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money. It is a masterful first offering and very much a collection. All of the tales concern the want of love or money (often both) and all have in common narrators whose deadpan descriptions of the monstrous and disturbing are utterly transfixing. Curtis has a gift for the evocation of human cruelty, both a casual, thoughtless variety (“Summer, With Twins”) and a more deliberate strain (“The Sno-Kone Cart” and “Monsters”). Although I found all of the Twenty Grand tales more or less excruciating for the material and emotional scenes they depicted, I could not stop myself from devouring all thirteen in a few sittings. There is a stark, bleak, amoral atmosphere to Curtis’s tales that might, in lesser hands, have made them unreadable, but his is not the case. Ultimately, the lives and minds and souls she portrays – all narrowed or troublingly warped by friendlessness, exploitation, betrayal, and privation – make for an undeniable declaration of the horrific consequences of poverty, both emotional and material. These are beautifully constructed stories and they will stun you even as their content harrows.

is a staff writer for The Millions living in Virginia. She is a winner of the Virginia Quarterly's Young Reviewers Contest and has a doctorate from Stanford. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Times, In Character, VQR, Arts & Letters Daily, and The Daily Dish.


  1. I reviewed Twenty Grand and, to some extent enjoyed the book, however troubling it might have been…
    I also find this review's statement: "There is a stark, bleak, amoral atmosphere to Curtis's tales that might, in lesser hands, have made them unreadable, but this is not the case." to be troubling.

  2. Ah, the danger of squib reviews: Trying not to say too much, one doesn't say enough.

    I am, admittedly, somewhat antiquated in my approach to literature: I view it–among other things and not solely–as potentially instructive about human capacities, behaviors, and types. I read Curtis's collection (perhaps because I couldn't stand to do otherwise, though more likely because the strange affect of her narrators, plus the presence of actual monsters and a talking wolf created a surreal quality that barred me from reading them as unadulterated realism) as cautionary tales: This is what privation does to human minds and souls.
    I have no time for the depiction of human suffering if it doesn't have a point.

    This may be a limitation of mine and I accept that this probably makes me sound like a Victorian lady reader, but artistic depictions of physical and mental suffering that don't have a moral point are just pornography to me.

    Thanks for reading, Emily

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