I didn’t care for this one much, and I think the reason for that is I don’t understand why Hazel does what she does. Okay, so her father died before she was born. So her mother used up her mothering skills on her other kids. So the sisters and mother were disappointed that Hazel wasn’t the reincarnation of her deceased father. Those don’t seem to be the worst things in the world, to me, so why does Hazel suddenly behave this way?
She’s in high school, doesn’t have a lot of friends. She’s looking forward to love one day but in no hurry. What she does for entertainment is walk, then come home and deal with her mother.
Her mother complains that Hazel is “such a teen-ager,” and wishes Hazel would skip ahead. So that’s what Hazel decides to do. (Again, is that sufficient motivation?) So with the skipping ahead in mind, she has casual sex with the 7-11 clerk, then she has sex with an older man (it’s rape, although she doesn’t resist).
And then she’s pregnant, and things are happening to her without her involvement. She imagines what it is that’s growing inside her—first a fur baby, then a large bird of prey, and eventually, when the baby is born, she thinks it’s a seal. Her mothers and sisters are there. The 7-11 clerk comes by to visit. But Hazel is in her own world.
And then the story takes a turn for the weird.
My bottom line is that I don’t buy Hazel’s actions. And that raises the question for me of how believable a character’s behavior has to be. I totally believe that someone could do what Hazel does, but this story, it seems to me, doesn’t prepare me for THIS character to do what Hazel does. The brief interview with Ramona Ausuble doesn’t shed much light.
The story’s title is interesting. “Atria” of course means a body cavity or chamber, including the chambers of the heart, and we can say that Hazel’s heart is empty, but that her womb is filled. There are other gaps in her life, too, so the title is appropriate.
April 4, 2011: “Atria” by Ramona Ausubel