‘Brownies’ by ZZ Packer

Brownies by ZZ Packer, 1999

The magic trick:

The push and pull between group identity and individual character

A something-close-to-brilliant story from ZZ Packer today.

“Brownies” takes us to Camp Crescendo outside Atlanta in 1983 (we know that the kids are singing “Beat It” and “Karma Chameleon”). This is one of my favorite kinds of nostalgia trips, where the narrator talks a lot in “we” terms while making it very clear that she is in many ways very different from the “we” she’s talking about.

It creates a very interesting tension between group expectations, community experience and personal memory. All of which is especially important here, as group identity played against individual character and experience is at the heart of the story.

And that’s quite a trick on Packer’s part.

The selection:

By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909. Troop 909 was doomed from the first day of camp; they were white girls, their complexions a blend of ice cream: strawberry, vanilla. They turtled out from their bus in pairs, their rolled-up sleeping bags chromatized with Disney characters: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Mickey Mouse; or the generic ones cheap parents bought: washed-out rainbows, unicorns, curly-eyelashed frogs. Some clutched Igloo coolers and still others held on to stuffed toys like pacifiers, looking all around them like tourists determined to be dazzled.

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