Shut Up You’re Pretty is a collection of linked short stories narrated by a young immigrant named Loli. In the Canadian housing project where her family lives, she befriends Jolie, who teaches her to show her breasts to boys in return for cigarettes. Loli graduates from “tits for cigs” to spa work, where she provides “release” for men, to earn money for university. She struggles with addiction, family problems, and awful relationships with both men and women. This all sounds unbearable, but Loli’s voice compels you to keep reading. She is cynical yet insightful and curious. The depth of her emotions gets her into trouble, and her desires seem beyond control: “I could never be satisfied with just one line. Or just one drink. Or just one kiss.” In the last story, Loli remembers the family’s first days in Canada, and her mother’s traditional Congolese cooking, as Loli figures out how to reconcile with her past.
Shut Up You’re Pretty, by Téa Mutonji. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press. The editor is Vivek Shraya. Shut Up You’re Pretty is a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; the winner will be announced on April 30.