Southern Feminism: On Beth Gilstrap’s ‘No Man’s Wild Laura’

Gilstrap’s quintessential feminist Southern stories crackle with unflinching precision and prose narrated in a no-nonsense drawl.


Beth Gilstrap
Short Stories | 29 Pages | 6” x 9” | Reviewed: Chapbook
First Edition | $6.00
Hyacinth Girl Press | Pittsburgh | BUY HERE

Contained within a beautifully handmade and ribbon-bound chapbook, No Man’s Wild Laura is a collection of four stories that capture the complex lives of Southern women, each seeking love and validation despite despondency and heartache.

With authenticity, grace, and grit, Gilstrap’s stories contrast Southern timelessness of character, identity, and the spoken word, against the backdrop of contemporary America. Identity is both a point of pride and a trapping of spirit.

In the title story, “No Man’s Wild Laura,” Laura seeks a fail-safe method for moving on from an affair with Graham, a married family man, six years prior. Frantically scouring her home with bleach in an effort to eradicate the mold she inherited along with the house, Laura’s quick to compare Graham to black mold whose lingering and lasting impact cause her nothing but trouble.

“I kept hoping, despite the fact that I had put on weight and couldn’t remember certain spots of time, that if I drank, scoured my house, shot enough birds and boiled enough crabs, my efforts would effervesce into some kind of accidental witchcraft to make him go away.”
(p. 5)

This isn’t a typical after-the-affair love story. Laura is the character of strength here in that her independence and solitude make her pine for Graham less, not more. She is complete without him and ill-equipped when he appears in her life again.

Men are often the root cause of suffering in these stories. In both “Go Off in the World, Violet” and “Earth to Gracie,” the heroines are warned by family, particularly mothers, of the long-lasting emotional damage that results from falling for the wrong man.

In “Regarding Suebelle,” a married woman struggling to get pregnant finds solace when she stumbles upon an animal carcass on her country property while her husband is away on one of his many business trips:

“There, in the spot she’d envisioned spinning a little girl in a tire swing, were the bones of her future. She would use them for something. Make something so at least that creature’s life didn’t go to waste.”
(p. 15).

This story is a thematic homage to “The Yellow Wallpaper” in that the broken and abandoned woman finds her sanity at the moment her husband considers her most insane.

With unflinching precision and piercing prose narrated in a no-nonsense drawl, No Man’s Wild Laura is quintessential feminist Southern literature.

MELISSA GRUNOW is a Staff Book Reviewer for The Coil. She is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016), which won Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards, and her collection of essays, I Don’t Belong Here, is forthcoming from New Meridian Arts Press in fall 2018. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Find her at melissagrunow.com.