The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Currents

October 24, 2013

MSU's Catt lands award, Good Thunder reading with arresting prose

MANKATO — Alicia Catt’s prose may not be for everyone. Namely, those too squeamish or too modest to step into the raw viscera of human relationships, to soil their hands and stain their clothes with storytelling so deeply vulnerable that the reader feels a voyeur to continue the next page. 

Where sweaty proximity leaves skin red and raw, where bruises are deep and purple from submission, where fetishized hotel room encounters and middle school cafeteria nightmares leave discernible scars — these are where Catt’s writings begin. With arresting honesty, the creative nonfiction writer does more than explore the soft tissue of relationships. Rather, she digs her nails in deep, picking and clawing at the scabs of her life experience.

“I like writing about the body and about identities,” said Catt, a Minnesota State University master’s student in creative writing and winner of the department’s 2013 Robert C. Wright Award who is giving a reading during today’s installment of the Good Thunder Reading Series. She will be joined by award-winning fiction writer Alan Davis. “I like writing about what it means to be a woman, and to be a woman in a small town.”

In “If Across Oceans You Find Yourself a Stranger,” Catt flatly exposes the rise and fall of a brief and tumultuous marriage, foretelling its sexual excess, spite-filled rages and destructive conclusion in an opening passage: “This is how a marriage can break: you love until your love becomes a weapon. This is how you lose a husband: tear him down, drive him away. Then drive away.”

In “Going Down on Polypropylene,” Catt bares the fratricidal brutality of middle school social heirarchies. But rather than casting herself solely as victim — and she is certainly that as boys hurl slurs at her chubby thighs while she runs the mile and popular girls spill a beaker of brine shrimp in her hair during science class — Catt gives witness to her own violence. When the new girl at school is placed on a social rung even beneath her own, the speaker alternately befriends and backstabs in order to preserve her social promotion: “How shameful it feels, but how delicious, too, to sense your station rising one tiny notch, from scapegoat to invisible. You pledge to hold your own there, whatever brutality that might take.”

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