“Tent People” by Kate Arden McMullen
Carve Magazine never fails in bringing readers fresh fiction. In the Winter 2020 issue, Kate Arden McMullen opens her story “Tent People” with a paragraph introducing our narrator, Baby, and her family: Lily, Elis, and Daddy. As the scene unfolds, Baby’s mother is notably absent. The story wraps around this absence as Baby wanders around in her newly found womanhood (“I’m full-grown now Mama says since I got my first-ever period last month,” she notes).
Unsure of herself in her body, she looks to the other women around her in wonder: Mag, her brother’s girlfriend who is slightly older than she is; her mother, away at her new job in Asheville; and “the Brady girl,” a young woman who has left her family to live as one of the “tent people” in the cult-like community near Baby’s house. In addition to the women, there are objects of perceived femininity that circulate around her, symbols of this new womanhood and what that might mean for her: nail polish Mag gives her, a makeup set Mag buys from the store and puts on in the car on the drive home, a pair of silky red underwear she steals from her mother’s dresser and secretly wears beneath her clothes.
McMullen treats Baby’s character with realism and grace, allowing her to fumble her way through a delicate time while giving her space to speak with authenticity. She works dialect into Baby’s inner dialogue, which gives her that much more of a realistic voice. Baby is sweet and relatable, honest and naïve, enchanting as she navigates this little space within the world around her.
Once a reader has finished the story, they’re given an opportunity to get inside McMullen’s mind in a following interview about Baby, process, and point of view, a great wrap-up to this brilliant little piece of fiction.