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A high plain

Pink Harvest; Toni Mirosevich; Mid-List Press: 204 pp., $16 paper

December 02, 2007|Marjorie Gellhorn Sa'adah | Marjorie Gellhorn Sa'adah is a writer in Los Angeles.

What was it that Toni Mirosevich's story collection, "Pink Harvest," reminded me of as I read it? The book was mercurial, changing voices and forms like new outfits. Slights between friends were remembered, polished with attention, beatified. Long car rides served as plot. Then, seven stories into the collection's 25, in "Stripping," a house loses its walls and a table its layers of paint. The writer shows herself, finally -- stark, unadorned and plain-spoken.

I realized at that moment what the book reminded me of: a teenage girl. Specifically, the ones I know, girls in intervention programs where I teach writing -- girls who teach me how to read and hear them. That was the feeling: of listening to a girl tell the day's outrage or revelation, a story that goes on and on before getting to breakfast; of biting the side of my mouth to keep from interrupting to ask, "What happens at the end?" And I had that other feeling, true for each girl, of eventually being blindsided by her plain truth, by what Mirosevich calls "inconsolable beauty."

It seemed only fair to take "Pink Harvest" to class and introduce the girls to the book. We read aloud from "Truant," and after a quick translation of the title -- "a girl who ditches" -- we were into the story of a scolding teacher who visits a Croatian immigrant family to warn the mother of her daughter's impending expulsion. The teacher holds up an outstretched hand -- a pointy finger for each day the girl has been absent. She says, "Your daughter is truant." The girl translates into Croatian for the mother: "Your daughter is a star."

In our classroom that day, there was the sound of the Santa Ana winds, which can desiccate a student's mind, reducing responses to the single long-suffering exhale: "I don't know," with "know" being code for "care." As we read, another sound -- of ballpoints rolling infinite doodles across paper -- ceased. There was just the sound of girls breathing, one of them with a little whistling caused by braces. I've spent a lot of time hoping to find this kind of story, one starring a girl, one highlighting her worth beyond school smarts, but one that nonetheless must be read through all its correctly spelled words, grammar and punctuation, its structure, form and freedom.

Mirosevich's topics are by no means juvenile. They feature her Croatian American fishing family; two decades of love with her partner, a nurse practitioner at a San Francisco hospital whose work Mirosevich also draws from to depict urban and family violence as well as compassionate care. In traveling what she calls the "distance between you and the world," the author is not wedded to form. She includes hundred-word thoughts, prose poems, stories and travel essays ("Lambs of God and the New Math" first appeared in "Best American Travel Writing, 2002").

Mirosevich, who has a keen eye and is very funny, eschews cathedrals and schools, "the designated place where meaning [is] supposed to reside." She travels less expected, circuitous paths, with the aim of being "released from what confines us."

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