Ellen Birkett Morris’s Lost Girls
A Collection of Insights into The Female Experience That Everyone Should Read: A Review of Ellen Birkett Morris's Lost Girls by Cassidy Witt
Lost Girls (Touchpoint Press, 2020) by Ellen Birkett Morris is a collection of short stories about mundane, everyday life from the perspective of beautifully-composed female characters. Each short story introduces a new protagonist with separate life contexts, and yet they all string together so cohesively and elegantly. The protagonists come from different financial situations, are of different ages and sexual orientations, and all feel true-to-life—offering a variety of readers access points to the collection.
Morris is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Abide (Seven Kitchens Press, 2021) and Surrender (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Notre Dame Review, and South Carolina Review, among other journals. She's the winner of the Bevel Summers Prize and the Betty Gabehart Prize for Fiction. Morris has an MFA from the Queens University-Charlotte. To read the writer's creative nonfiction in Miracle Monocle, visit issue 19 of this journal.
While these stories in Lost Girls are oriented in the mundane, they're anything but boring. Morris takes readers through the ups and downs of aging, birth, death, love, heartbreak—and so much more—while telling the stories of women and girls lost in their own heads and their own lives, lost in the world or to the world. She touches on the many things that go through a woman’s mind as she finds her way through life—even those things that may be uncomfortable to face. In her honest and uncensored storytelling, I was made to feel less alone in the company of my own internal dialogue, one I may not always be proud of. I think Morris holds every intention of giving that kind of catharsis to the reader; women are so often told to hate everything about ourselves, to question all our actions and our thoughts, and this book both represents and demolishes that concept simultaneously.
In “Religion," the writer focuses on a woman who accidentally stumbles upon a “Lactation League” meeting wherein mothers gather to talk about their experiences with breastfeeding and early motherhood. The protagonist has no children herself and lives a generally lonely, void life. The story isn’t about God at all; rather, it’s about finding religion in those around you. The woman comes to worship the intimacy of breastfeeding but has no child to bond with. This leads her to do some strange things, and I found myself feeling a mess of complex emotions as I both empathized with and chastised this character. Despite having never been in her situation, I found myself feeling her deep loneliness and desperation. These stories have a way of inspiring moments of self-reflection I don’t think I would have come upon otherwise.
“Harvest” tells the story of an old woman fighting with her own aging process. She keeps no mirrors in her house and watches the youths surrounding her resentfully. As a reader who happens to be twenty years old, the only way I’ve personally experienced aging is with excitement and promise. As I began to understand the character's fear and self-hatred, I interpreted this story as a cautionary tale: foreboding, yet hopeful. In a world where women are seen as most valuable when they are most beautiful, and most beautiful when they are coming of age, Morris challenges the reader to question the importance and validity of this construct. Should we waste our lives yearning for the past?
“Like I Miss Not Being a Ballerina” intrigued me with its confusing title and shattered me when I came to realize its meaning. The story focuses on a girl whose mother has been dead since she was four, and she says “I miss her, but in a strange way, like I miss not being a ballerina. I'd love to dance, but I'm clumsy, so I eliminated ballerina from my career aspirations long ago.” I lost my mother when I was nineteen, so I felt both consumed by and distant from this sentiment. As with many other stories in this collection, Morris touches on mother-daughter relationships and death with such grace and honesty. Anyone who has ever had a mother, or lost a mother, or been a mother, is going to connect with a character in this book.
As a woman, I think anyone who has been socialized as a woman should read this book. Some of us are blissfully unaware of our own oppressions, even those within our minds, and Morris makes a point of putting these emotions under a microscope for all to see. As someone who has women I care about in my life, I also think anyone who has not been socialized as a woman should read this book. Morris’s prose allows an entrance to the female experience that readers of all walks of life could benefit from delving into.