Peril and Protection in Haley Crigger’s “Not in Any Trouble”
Oct 23, 2020
By Colorado Review associate editor Hannah Barnhart
As an associate editor at Colorado Review, I am always delighted to come across a story about adolescence, girlhood, sexual violence, and female friendship that is as astute and provocative as Haley Crigger’s “Not in Any Trouble,” from the upcoming Fall 2020 issue. Set in rural Kentucky, Crigger’s story follows the rise and fall of the bond between Lacey and Sydney, two girls who, due to stark differences in class, age, education, and beauty, can’t truly understand each other. The story of their co-infatuation is punctuated by moments of sexual predation from neighbors and local boys, culminating in an event that shocks the town and drives the two girls apart for good.
As Lacey, the story’s narrator, remarks: “I’d always thought snapping turtles were cute, but they can bite your toe off.” Throughout the story there is a murkiness between protection and peril, between desiring and resisting, between thrill and trauma, between attraction and bite. What I love about this story is how it never quite makes clear who brings danger unto whom—who is in trouble, who is vulnerable, who is safe, and who is protected. Both Sydney and Lacey have overprotective parents, and this is the origin of their bond, but they are different in so many other significant ways: Lacey is homeschooled while Sydney attends a fancy private school; Lacey is a tomboy while Sydney is strikingly beautiful. Lacey feels a deep, maternal need to protect her pretty little friend from harm, but when harm does come to Sydney—she has the resources and the status to shield herself from Lacey’s dangerous world when she needs to, while Lacey doesn’t have that option. It is unclear which girl needs to be protected from the harm the other girl has the potential to bring. On the one hand, Lacey’s proximity to Sydney puts a target on her back that wasn’t there before. Her femaleness, next to her attractive friend, is doubled; made more apparent. She says: “I liked being a girl, but I liked it better when my friends seemed to forget, or at least not to notice. When my impending womanhood felt less like a heavy coat and more like a concealed knife.” On the other hand, Sydney’s summer-long foray into Lacey’s neighborhood lands her in a situation she wouldn’t have found herself in if she had just stayed with her private school friends. So both girls bring peril to each other, but Lacey feels all sorts of shame around it. She says, “I imagined Sydney . . . talking about her dense, religious, homeschooled friend and the white trash neighbors. Her summer living on the other side of the tracks. I wanted to blow up.” Yet the apology on Sydney’s side is absent; she remains naive about the danger she brought to her friend. But to Lacey, that peril becomes clear by the end: “I left and shut myself in my bedroom, thinking about the Durham boys, the danger I thought I brought to Sydney, and replaced it with the idea she had brought it to me.”
Despite its darkness, this story also exudes joy. Reading it moved me and had me laughing out loud. Crigger delivers lines such as “We waded in the neighborhood creeks during flash floods, letting the current tug and drag our bodies,” just a few paragraphs before this one: “We ate Doritos and played Mario Kart until morning.” One minute, the girls are speaking French and wading in a creek and the next they are munching on chips and playing video games in the basement. Life in this neighborhood feels both magical and ordinary, whimsical and drab. But it is the girls—their energy, their spark, their force—that gives the world its vivaciousness. They are cute and fiery, but they might just snap your toes off.
Hannah Barnhart is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at Colorado State University and an associate editor at Colorado Review.