Books story by Andrew Kiraly Photography Aaron Mayes Her bleakly funny tales depict women who struggle with odd compulsions Alissa Nutting applies biting humor to Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. Crossing the line Two young Vegas writers explore cultural barriers — one with surreal humor, the other with a touch of noir These women kidnap pandas from the zoo. They stuff the front of their cocktail dresses with tennis balls. They drink too much at the class reunion and wake up in strangers’ cars. They let their aggressive 27-pound cats interfere with their one-night stands. These are the characters in Alissa Nutting’s upcoming short story collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. In an age when reality TV sends Playboy bunnies, would-be supermodels and celebutantes parading through our living rooms, Nutting’s women are decided underdogs. “I wanted a book that was dedicated to a different viewpoint of American women 60 Desert Companion M AR C H / / A P R I L 2 0 1 0 in the modern setting,” says Nutting, a Schaeffer Fellow in UNLV’s English department. “I wanted to give a voice to outcasted or pathetic females in society whose experience wouldn’t normally be championed.” Her bleakly humorous stories, some of which are flash portraits as brief as 400 words, center on women who struggle against bad habits and odd compulsions in their quest for a connection. There’s the narrator of “Deliverywoman,” who still can’t earn her mother’s love — never mind it’s the year 2045 and she’s generously unfreezing dear old mom from a cryogenic prison capsule. Or the protagonist of “Magician,” who buys a parakeet for her brother, who lost an arm in accident; she imagines it might somehow magically regrow his lost limb. Or the adoring, long-suffering sidekick in “Model’s Assistant.” And somehow, you could easily imagine Nutting, a sunny, waifish, self-confessed neurotic, in all the main characters’ roles. (Get a taste of Nutting’s skewed universe on page 63.) One major American author appreciated her worldview: acclaimed experimental writer Ben Marcus, who selected Nutting’s collection as the winner of 2009’s Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls will be published by Starcherone Books in the fall. Surely, Nutting will be happy — but not too happy. “My writing comes from a very obsessive, scared, very paranoid, injured place,” she says with a laugh. “It’s kind of like taking the water and scooping it out of the boat with the hole in the bottom every single day. I sort of have that kind of … I don’t know, hurt monkey on my back, I guess?” Authentically noir The work of Vu Tran explores cultural barriers of a different type.