Doll Palace

“Sara Lippmann’s prose is unflinching. Her female characters see motherhood, womanhood and self-hood through a raw and funny lens: I am about to cry, when I laugh. Terribly wonderful and exciting work!”

— Rachel Sherman, author of Living Room and The First Hurt

Doll Palace, Sara Lippmann       Release Date: September 2014

In this brilliantly rendered debut collection, Sara Lippmann draws the reader into the intimate lives of characters seeking connection beyond their scripted worlds. She captures the beguiling transformation from child to adult with humor, heartache, and desperation. From grieving mothers to fathers adrift, old flames to restless teens, the isolated characters in Doll Palace are united by conflicting desires and the private struggles of the heart.

A girl ditches her innocence at a state fair. Strippers ponder love over a Brazilian wax. A father falls for a drug-addled babysitter. A mother ends a pregnancy. Doll Palace dwells in the harder-edged territories of human compassion, navigating the powerful, often unsettling ground rarely spoken of with candor, care, and grace. Written in spare yet vulnerable prose, Doll Palace is that rare collection that invites imitation but leaves a vast majority wondering how she did it.

Sara Lippmann is the recipient of a 2012 Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Joyland, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, PANK, The Potomac Review, Fourth Genre, Slice Magazine, and many other print and online publications.  Raised outside of Philadelphia, she lives with her husband and children in Brooklyn.

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Whipping Post
Sara Lippmann

I’m in the car with my sister Jane when that song comes on. She adjusts the A/C, does nothing to the volume. Then comes the look.

Lizzie, she says. Remember State Fair?

I was fourteen but looked twelve. Rode in on the bus that morning, Peter Pan, white ribbed tank and batik skirt, bells woven into macramé looped around my bony ankle. I needed a break from home so Jane picked me up at the station in Ithaca and I dropped my Guatemalan knapsack at her off-campus apartment and we spent the morning getting high on the Arts Quad, wandering through fraternities and big rumbling houses. Everywhere I went people got a kick out of me. She hated it. I was so young I jingled.

We both wore our hair like the girl in the Muppets band, blonde and stringy and straight down the middle, so we passed back her ID and snuck me into a bar for lunch. We drank pitchers. At one point I wasn’t looking
great and Jane saw it and started hopping about how I was going to embarrass her right fucking there until some guy pressed next to me in the booth and brushed the sweaty wisps from my forehead and offered this gorgeous basket of bread.

I sat there and ate the whole loaf.

Later, we piled into a station wagon that smelled like cleats and camping gear, Ivy-League stickers, dancing bears stamped in rainbow along the bumper, Ithaca is gorges. I’d just completed ninth grade. On the drive to Syracuse I kept my head out the window, strands whipping my cheeks, gulping air. I’d done this once with my favorite stuffed animal, only somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike I’d forgotten I was holding on until my lovey was spinning out smack into the divider.

There were advantages to having an older sister. She went through things and I don’t merely mean I got hand-me-downs. I’d eaten mushrooms. Chewed through a tough, gritty palm’s worth on cold pizza in a friend’s
basement, puked in her yard, cart-wheeled through the brush in a pack of girls as our designated ‘shroom mommy tried cracking sense at the moon. This was different. I could nibble a few stale stems in the car if I wanted, Jane said, but she was not going to babysit on her trip.

It was the summer of 1990.

Metal bleachers rattled as we filed on laughing. Allman Brothers! State Fair! Jane’s friends passed around glass bowls and one-shooters and joints rolled in clove paper so we smoked and looped arms and watched the jellyfish blobs morph their groovy shit on the Jumbotron.

Southbound, Sweet Melissa.

In health class Ms. Betts distributed neon condoms to usher in our unit on sex-ed. We plumped them up at the water fountain and launched them from an open window in geometry, landed a month of detention.

At some point I had to pee. There was a line
for the Port-a-Johns next to the pimpled vendors for fried dough. I slipped off my sandals as I waited, wiggling my toes through sand and broken glass.

Lookee, it’s Little Sister.

Some guy from campus I recognized, he held a funnel over my mouth at a party or maybe he was the one who watched me stuff myself full with bread. I wasn’t sure. He wore cargos.

I’d had my braces off a year so I stood there, smiling wide, squinty. Talk about dry mouth. Greg Allman was singing, people can you feel it, tambourines slamming against thighs. He had tan muscled calves, this college boy, and his hair was at that in-between length, so he kept slipping the stragglers from his ponytail behind his ears. His fingers fluttered. I lit a cigarette.

Somewhere, it must be written: Tell a little sister she’s hotter than cooler than more badass than her older sister and she will do anything to make it feel true.

He stole a drag and said what’s going on. I was so grateful he didn’t call me kiddo that when he handed me his foamy cup I drained it.

Easy tiger, he said.

I wiped my face. Sure, I was built like a boy in army surplus, tiny holes working through my tank’s ribbing, but who knows what drove him. There were no washboard comments or termite tits. My lips kept curling against my gums so I licked them.

You don’t want to deal with this stink, he said, standing close enough I could smell fair food on him. He knew a better place, he said, so I twisted through the crowds after him, past beer stops and pickle barrels and tie-dye stands and machines whirring icy blue threads of cotton candy. We crossed a parking lot. The Ferris wheel rose in the distance.

There was a field. He stood in front of me to block the road while I yanked down my underwear and squatted. My aim was poor, my heels wet, so I left my Hanes right there in the grass, my skirt long enough; I felt a breeze.

Nice, he said.

We sat on the hill and watched the sunset.

Come here, he said. I burrowed into his arm and he fingered the crystals strung on iridescent beads low on my neck, where a cleavage would go if I had one. He started in on my hair. I had been in a bus, a car, I’d tumbled down Libe Slope in a druggy haze; I was a tangled grassy mess but whatever. It’s the gestures that make a girl feel special.

Kissing was one thing only it wasn’t. Boys said, finish what you started.

My friend Emily had a pool with a cabana for dolphin floats and foam noodles. Everyone went to her house that summer. We would peel off wet suits and give lazy hand jobs to the upperclassmen, who pressed against my clammy ribs, kneading and tugging and always looking for more than I had.

I would give this guy everything if it meant beating Jane. Pull off his shirt and ease onto his lap, all 100 pounds of me rocking slow
against him as if he were a balance beam I’d mounted before rising at a meet. He held my hips and grew. Hair circled his nipples, and I knew it was a matter of time before he’d sprout patches along his back and shoulders too, like my father. I spread my hands into his chest, half-hoping to be lifted in a game of airplane. Instead he groped my head. When I wormed down to him he smelled like a locker room but Jane had prepared me; asparagus, she said, so this wasn’t bad, really, this was fine and manly and good – this made the world go round – busying down his trail with my mouth open and eyes closed, breathing, until I could no longer hear the band.

We were wasted yet he checked me like a holiday turkey. It was thoughtful. Lord knows I was small. Fingers I was used to but his forefinger and thumb hosted these tiny hard bumps he swore came from lighter burns but looked like plantar warts. Finally, he rolled me over and hiked up my skirt and parted my knees, sucking as if he were pulling a bong hit through a three-foot tube. That should do it, he said, and sure enough he was in and I was watching the clouds pull apart and the sky give
way to darkness.

I was back on the stands by Whipping Post. Jane was peaking then, so she twirled me and we danced and my thighs stuck together. I smiled at the thought of him pocketing my underwear he used to clean himself. It felt so 16 Candles.

A week later a urinary tract infection would shoot through my kidneys. What did I know? Jane never taught me about peeing. Ms. Betts would drive me to the ER in her mustard Pinto during lunch, where after school my father would find me, snapping back the pastel curtain as antibiotics seeped through a vein, and call me a whore.

In the car I tell my sister I hardly remember.

Suddenly, I want a smoke. I try rolling down the window but the button has a childproof lock even though her car seats are empty. Our father just had triple by-pass. We are his two girls and a visit is expected. I fidget with the unlit cigarette in my lap until it crumbles.

Really, have you no self-control? Jane says.

We are almost there.

The radio plays.

To read more look for Doll Palace, now available from Dock Street Press.

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Doll Palace release date of September 2014


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