The title story won a Charles Angoff award in 1987 and this collection of thirteen connected stories, Eakins' first book, announces a new talent on the scene. As Paul Violi observes, “Eakins' work has the multifarious appeal of genius, and she may have written a major book. Certainly she has written a magical one.” These stories are a modern bestiary which rework the stuff of mythologies, spanning the cultures of the planet, reclaiming for the Imagination its territories from Science. They are counterfables in which the usual fabulous project is reversed: animal characteristics are attributed to humans, and humans and animals are seen as codeterminants of the moral and cultural landscape.
Eakins writes of terrifying pullulation [rapid breeding, swarming, teeming] with enormous charm; nature in her stories is gargantuan and omnivorous . . . life is a constant turmoil of metamorphoses, Heraclitian but marvelous strife. So many of her creatures, in their very genesis, even in their pre-natal state are already causing havoc, seething beneath the soil of edenic landscapes, bursting forth to reduce human affairs to defenseless absurdity. . . . Yet in virtually all of Eakins' stories, the beauty of life is redeeming; in this she reverses Rilke, as if to say, that beauty is not the beginning of terror, but survives it. For all their careful observation, the stories have the furious motion of myths . . . applied to familiar genres: the western, the feral child, the nuke mutant, the courtly Japanese tale, the Persian parable . . . their spiritual range is that of an encompassing vision.
The Hungry Girls was selected by New American Writing, Best of the U.S. Small Presses for the 1990 traveling U.S.I.A exhibit, which exhibit was seen worldwide, including Cairo, Egypt, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Mexico City, Mexico and Barcelona, Spain.
From New American Writing's March 7, 1990 press release:
New American Writing, in conjunction with the United States Information Agency's Book Program, has sent 275 titles from 75 of the U.S.'s finest small presses to join book exhibits in many cities.
New American Writing has selected these titles in the categories of Art, Literature, Performing Arts and Poetry. Included are such noted authors as Isaac Asimov, Charles Bukowski, Langston Hughes and Andre Codrescu along with a myriad of names we believe will soon to be recognized as new forces in American literature.
Each of these titles was picked with considerable thought to which best exemplifies the high standards we have come to expect from these fine sources of contemporary American literature; the small independent presses of the U.S.
The Hungry Girls and Other Stories
by Patricia Eakins
Full Cover painting a suite of black and white illustrations by Judy Sohigian
Afterword by Paul Violi
First edition 1988
138 pages, 5½" x 8½"
About the Book
. . . The Hungry Girls And Other Stories . . . takes us into a landscape at once awful, fantastic and darkly familiar . . . Patricia Eakins' territory is in that tangled thicket of the imagination somewhere between Borges and Burroughs, between the fairy tales of Grimm and the magic realism of the South Americans, a kind of Invisible Cities as animal sanctuary . . . The Hungry Girls is about the primordial universe unmediated by the civilized and the rational, but it is also implicitly about the imagining of self-sustaining worlds, the making of convincing artifice . . . Ms. Eakins' imaginary creatures have a visceral reality as powerful and convincing as the human characters in most of our realistic fictions. . . . Nature in Patricia Eakins' densely rendered universe is both evenhanded and arbitrary. The Hungry Girls gives us a dimly familiar version of our world, as perceived through a transforming imagination. It is a work of imaginative brilliance, a considerable achievement in modest disguise. . . . Readers interested in the pleasure of surprising fictions will go out of their way to find . . . Patricia Eakins' triumphantly quirky first book.
— Jonathan Baumbach
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, February 5, 1989
A stunning mixture of mythology, surrealism, anthropology and nature, the thirteen stories in this collection are a tour-de-force of originality, imagination and style. From story to story, Eakins invents a fantastic bestiary which resembles at times the gentle and wise creation myths of primitive tribes and at others the dark sociological satire of Swift and Rabelais. These stories . . . exhibit a finely-honed, carefully constructed anti-realism; . . . a kind of attack on the highly conscious, rational, dualistic, scientific thought processes common to Western thinking in the modern age. The author seems to argue, with justification, that imagination and the unconscious are doors to understanding that have rusted shut on their hinges as a result of our over-reliance on reason. Borrowing from any number of conventions both sacred and profane, from contes fantastiques to creation myths to traditional Japanese courtier tales, these stories seek to provide, like the myths and fables they often emulate, explanations for mysteries beyond the kinds of knowing fostered by scientific thought. The Hungry Girls is quite simply one of the most intriguing and entertaining new collections of short fiction I have read in recent years.
— Greg Boyd
ASYLUM, Vol. 4, No. 4 (1989)
One of the characters in Patricia Eakins' first collection, The Hungry Girls and Other Stories, talks of stepping into books, “there to enjoy a universe that is our own in all its perfection.” That universe is her own book, actually a bestiary . . . The territory may be akin to the work of Harold Jaffe or tangentially even to that of Kathy Acker or William Burroughs, but it is yet very much Eakins' own, imbued with an ecological “fitness” that is one of the many strengths of the collection. . . . Eakins' skill lies in writing a fairty tale full of childlike wondrousness, capable of allaying the “grown-up's” skepticism, yet still preserving the cynicism and defeat that is our adult lot. . . . In many of these stories, Eakins is willing to cover vast tracts of time to show us the human capacity for absurdity or decadence on a panoramic scale . . . and we laugh at . . . fallibility . . . which is really our own. We laugh a lot in this book [at] digressions . . . luscious and revealing and thus not digressions at all. Much of the imaginative richness of the collection comes from what might be called an anthropological plausibility . . . but it is more: the weaving of ritual into the lives of fictional characters. . . . I give testament to Eakins' ability to bring . . . impossible beings to life. There's a totality to these creatures and their habits that makes them arresting beyond their inherent freakishness. What the sophisticated reader culls from these tales of mythological animals . . . is twofold: as is said of a man in the title story: “he had been long enough among the animals to have forgotten the ways of people.” The readers of this collection are in essence reminded that the reverse is also true. Eakins' bestiary is territory that I doubt can be approached again without repetition, but showing the imaginative capacity that she does, whatever direction she chooses to take the next must be awaited with anticipation. Here she shows the beast and beauty in ourselves, not only how ordinary our humanity but also how mundane our beastliness.
— Peter Bricklebank
AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW, November-December 1989
Like some of the best poetry, these tales dazzle and amuse us with their inventiveness, love of paradox, and skill with language.
— Enid Dame
OXALIS, Winter 1988-1989
What we have here in this collection is the birth of a North American Borges — mental, clever, all puzzles and riddles, lit as chess, mind-trek, with this difference . . . whereas Borges is centered in dream, myth, the occult, the focus of Eakins is a fantasy-biology in its widest sense. The whole book is visioned through the naturalists' eye only (like Borges) this naturalist is just a little surrealistically off center. Delicious writing, a kind of fantastic bestiary. It has the bronze solidity and permanence of major work . . . Romping through all-history, all-geography, turning her fantastic animals into sociological paradigms (Cf. Gulliver's Travels or Melville's Mardi), working out absurd sociological models with utter tongue-in-cheek sobriety . . . Eakins has thrown a puzzler at us more than anything else announces the beginnings of the major phase of a major artist among us.
— Hugh Fox
SMALL PRESS REVIEW, November 1988
Patricia Eakins must have grown up on bestiaries because every story in her new collection is about some sort of made-up animal, and like the medieval writers, she is very moral about her creatures, except in her case the morals tend to be a little disturbing.
— Stuart Klawans
WHYY -FM (NPR), Philadelphia, September 21, 1988
The Hungry Girls is an astonishingly ambitious and accomplished book, especially considering the risks Patricia Eakins takes. Writing in the genre of the fabulous tale, she stakes a claim in territory pioneered by . . . Rabelais, yet her work reveals a distinctive and often startling sensibility. The strength and resonance of many of Eakins' stories come from her deft use of the shocking. . . . At times the fantastical is no more than we might see on the evening news . . . Eakins sometimes casts a devastatingly cold eye on what human culture accepts as normal . . . Eakins apparently believes in our need for story to make the world come alive again. Even her most fantastical stories are tales of the human condition.
— Kathleen Norris
HUNGRY MIND REVIEW, Spring 1989
The Hungry Girls should be just a bestiary. . . . Instead it is a gift of unconstrained storytelling, a vigorous imagination striding . . . through the awful, brutal necessities of biology which has this terrifying effect: Eakins makes us cringe at the rebellious nature of our own flesh, caught between our puny wishes and the needs of the species . . . The Hungry Girls is among the most original and unsettling books I have ever read. . . . The tales are constructed with surprising, even astonishing turns. There is nothing floating or disconnected about her voice. She is deeply engaged, passionately observing the worlds that her imagination has about the real world. This book is the Smithsonian of the imagination, only better. . . . Eakins is so deft, she ranges across forms, using each to exactly fit her tale . . . And yet these stories are never quite a form . . . but remain images evoked . . . so the reader walks away with a powerful image, his nightmare still intact . . . These stories . . . are dark, even malevolent in their power to evoke horror, but Eakins achieves these effects with a brilliant mixture of humor, sometimes so outrageous you laugh out loud, and poetic turns that make the language sing with rhythmns and resonances that are comforting, calming and enthralling, in the same moment she makes you gasp. Eakins' passion does not derive from a description of what she sees . . . but from a furious, at times ecstatic attempt to comprehend an awesome universe . . .
— John Richards
CAPRICE, October 1988
. . . Patricia Eakins tells us thirteen tales of primal, disturbing beauty in an authoritative voice that is both scientific and lush. Under the guidance of this storyteller, we suspend our old ways of seeing and enter a mythic landscape where the perverse becomes redemtive and the macabre becomes natural. Eakins' tales . . . strip away sentimentality to reconnect us with old truths and to reveal the world as it is: graced, mysterious, and brutal . . . Eakins' book yields an astounding menagerie of life. Parable, epic, folklore, fairy tale, saga — the teller houses her vision in each of these forms to pass on a collection of wisdom that is rare in this age of information.
— Mary Lynn Skutley
GARGOYLE, Winter 1990
Patricia Eakins' The Hungry Girls is as rare a creature as those that populate its pages, a genuinely original, beautiful, and disturbing work of art. It is a kind of imaginative bestiary for our times, but a bestiary in the same sense that Borges' Ficciones is a collection of myths or that Calvino's Cosmicomics is a scientific treatise. And it shares with these works a lightness of touch, comic wit, and astonishing inventiveness.
— Robert Coover
author of The Public Burning and Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears? , March 1988
An awesomely inventive tale-teller, Patricia Eakins has created a world that is a mirror of our own (only minus such human impediments as morality and memory). Its animals are tantalizing in their trompe l'oeil reality, rendered with disarming aplomb, and she sets them in fierce and unstoppable motion without a blink to give away her game. That deadpan poise is what gives these stories their rare menacing wit: Aren't these things possible? These species sound so plausible, their behavior so—nearly—familiar . . . Patricia Eakins writes beautifully: a fine ear and a sense of shape make uncommon music of her direct imaginings. If you've had enough fiction-as-usual — name brands, minor ephiphanies, timid time-bound gestures — The Hungry Girls has some astounding things to tell.
— Roselyn Brown
author of Civil Wars, August 1988
What most distinguishes her work is a thickness I'll call Geertzian, a packed quality — the excitement and immediacy of lyric poetry . . . The test is the sentence. Power is the word that comes to mind. The actual, physical presence of energic mass, I mean energy/mass. It's the relentless electric charge of the fiction. . . . The test is the sentence . . . In Eakins, there is an integrity, an authority, everywhere at all times present and accounting.
— George Chambers
author of The Last Man Standing, November 1987
Patricia Eakins' fables are a garden of earthly delights. Some of them (literally) made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The Hungry Girls is rare, startling and brilliant. Her tales transported me to the land behind the looking glass where Franz Kafka dwells among the houris.
— Donald McCaig
author of Nop's Trials, April 1988
These stories are more than imagination; they are witty, playful, soberly detailed glimses into realities totally believable. These stories are wicked in their conjoinment of what the eye sees and the heart and mind know. The settings are convincingly detailed, the language of each story richly native to it, and the animals are so living in their acts and behaviours and relationships one knows they are real.
— Faye Kicknosway
author of Who Shall Know Them?, March 1988
The Hungry Girls is a continuously startling work, an elegant violation of the rules of contemporary fiction. Like gamelan music or like creation myths and tribal histories, these stories have no real beginning or end. Each seems a piece of some larger record—of a life, a people, a village, a culture. In part their genius resides in the authenticity of each story's tone and point of view and in part with the music and imagery of the language itself, which is poetic and sensuous. One savors the flow of words, sometimes rollicking, often disturbing, ever mysterious and evocative. That we cannot quite say what these stories mean speaks of the purity of their connection to the well-spring of human creativity. The characters (whether men, women, beasts, or something between) arise like dream figures, inexplicable, unless we make them safe by reducing them to less than what they are. These are stories that echo from so many regions of the psyche they confound analysis, and finally we must take them of a piece both vivid and bewildering. Finally it is their aesthetic to which we are drawn, the intricate compilation of detail, evincing a rare and humbling artistry.
— Elizabeth Herr
Poet and Fiction Writer, August 1988
More than stories in a collection, Eakins' tales are palimpsests of cultures, the details of each slightly effaced portrait glancing through the layers of cultural imagination. With their faintly bizarre sexuality and their good humor, they belong to the world of fable, not to the dusty archives of academic anthropology—they are, in that sense, fabulous.
— Mariana Rexroth
Poet, August 1988
In The Hungry Girls Patricia Eakins often displays a very personal brand of post-Surrealist anthropology or zoology which allows her to describe in great detail and most convincingly the complex customs or mythical beliefs of purely imaginary peoples or else the equally fanciful lifecycles of creatures as unreal as the Snark or the Boojum in the far more whimsical writings of Lewis Carroll. . . . In some of her stories Patricia Eakins displays an imagination similar to that of Yacov Lind in offering us a modern and psychologically more sophisticated form of the “gothic tales” of such writer of the early nineteenth-century as Charles Brockden Brown, Robert Maturin or Sheridan Lefanu.
— Edouard Roditi
translator of Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto, author of The Delights of Turkey and Thrice Chosen