The University of Iowa Writers Workshop, the Julliard of the literary universe, has produced a number of spectacular writers over the years Raymond Carver, Flannery O”Conner, John Irving and Rita Dove, to name a few. Iowa”s latest prodigy, Thisbe Nissen, has come forward with a short-story collection entitled “Out of the Girls” Room and Into the Night,” and her promise is clear. The book is entertaining, expressive, brilliant and witty from beginning to end. Nissen could be on the way to the fame of her predecessors.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Anchor Books

At first glance, the candy-colored book appears to be more suited to the Cosmo Reader Recommendations alongside “Bridget Jones” Diary” than cited as “awe-inspiring” by the Austin Chronicle. However, although Nissen deals with subject matters that are very close to home for the twenty-something generation, she does so with a finesse that is, indeed, awe-inspiring.

Nissen”s investigations into human relationships, chance, time and love, occur in a number of places a group of deadheads on the day of Jerry”s death, a Texas girl on a blind date to a Manhattan high school senior prom, a collection of eight housemates struggling with cohabitation in their final year of college (on Walnut Street, in fact), a long-distance friendship begun at summer camp, a video-store boy”s admiration of the mysterious skinny girl who eats mushrooms, an Upper-West-Side girl sleeping with her best friend”s brother while her mother dies in the apartment below, a girl in a dissatisfactory relationship with terrible self-concept creeping into bulimia and another man”s bed. Perhaps her most resonant piece, “Accidental Love,” is a story of two college-bound teenagers who met holding Therma-Rests on a wilderness adventure for teens. In this story the protagonist Lilith goes to visit Steffen at his home in Maine, where Lilith meets Steffen”s mother, Lynn.

Lynn feeds her tea that tastes like “water that”s had a ham-bone soaking in it for two months.” Lynn, she discovers, even uses a vibrator. “Love is an entity unto itself,” Lynn tells Lilith. “There are patches of it all over the place. It”s not really tangible, but it”s there, pools of it. Blue pockets, swirling like eddies. People don”t meet because they both like Burmese food, or because someone”s sister has a friend who”s single and new in town, or because Billy”s nose happened to crook just slightly to the left at an angle that made me want to weep. People don”t fall in love with each other. They just fall in love.”

In her tale of two traveling deadheads, Nissen”s lead character states that safety is “a point of contact.” Nissen”s stories are like that, those singular points of contact that create, change and define us. However, it”s not just for her musings on the big issues that Nissen is worthwhile. Every detail and quirk in her plethora of characters is beautifully constructed. She explores youth with a genuine maturity.

Nissen”s stories have appeared in Seventeen, The Sycamore Review and Story. She has recently been awarded with the John Simmons Award for Short Fiction for this book, which is quickly becoming one of the most popular collections released by a University of Iowa writer.

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