Although Danzy Senna is primarily known as a novelist, literary critics should sit up and take notice of her arrival as a short story writer. With her superb collection You Are Free, Senna emerges with insightful stories that explore gender, race and motherhood.
A female protagonist links each of the stories in You Are Free; what makes them most interesting is the fact that not all of these characters are likable ones. In the powerful “The Land of Beulah,” a woman takes out her frustration from a failed relationship by abusing her new puppy, which she justifies through giving up her social life in order to “care” for the dog. In “What’s the Matter with Helga and Dave?” an interracial couple with a new baby struggles to interact with their neighbors (also interracial with a child) whose reverse racism and odd parenting methods ultimately put them at war with one another. And in the eerie opening story “Admission,” tensions mount between a biracial couple when their son is admitted to an elite private Los Angeles preschool, which they applied to on a whim.
Senna—having received stellar praise for her novel Symptomatic—is no stranger to exploring women in stages of pre- and post-motherhood. Her analysis of the mother—tethered down by children, responsibilities, dogs and jobs—is swiftly counterbalanced by the single woman, weighed down by work, relationships and the looming prospect of having children. In the end, the question of who exactly is free applies to all of the women within these stories, making the reader pause and wonder what it is they long to be free from.