Book Review: “There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out”

Review by Tobias Carroll

Madeleine McDonnell
There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out
(Rescue Press, 79 p.)

The three stories in Madeleine McDonnell’s short collection There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out traffic in unease, upending familiar scenarios and tautly inverting certain expectations. These are slow-burning, unexpected explorations of family and morality. “Wife” derives its friction from the ways in which notions of family and matrimony are defined and challenged; “Physical Education” has a plot that might seem on the surface to be both quirky and inspirational (a teenager’s father fills in for her in gym class while she is being treated for cancer) but rapidly becomes messier, as the narrator’s father loses himself amidst the rituals of high school sports.

McDonnell’s prose is restrained, each sentence handing off import to the one that follows. The opening lines of “Wife” neatly embody this:

Her name is Wednesday. This is the problem. This is her mother’s fault. Her mother: professor and second-wave feminist, winner of Bunning and Guggenheim fellowships, wearer of plastic ducky barrettes. A child’s barrettes.

The tension McDonnell creates in these three stories doesn’t necessarily derive from looming illnesses or the abrupt impact of an automotive collision (though the collection’s final story, “Trouble,” does have a few of those.) Instead, she places these on the outskirts of her work, relying on awkward exchanges, emotionally raw conversations, and genuine philosophical and moral arguments to move these stories forward. It’s a decision that, ultimately, works: the tension contained in them is often wrenching, and their resolutions feel both exhausting and genuinely earned.