I’ve Never Done This Before

By Claire Rudy Foster ’06

Reviewed by Megan Labrise ’04
Claire Rudy Foster

As a young Reed grad, Claire Rudy Foster believed literary stardom lay behind a locked door to which substance abuse was the key. Hoping to join the sodden continuum of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson, Irvine Welsh, and William Faulkner, she drank, drugged, and wrote every day. When the manuscript for her novel numbered 200 pages, she was horrified to discover—in a rare moment of clarity—that it consisted of the same scene written over and over.

Claire detoxed, rehabbed, and spent two years sober before writing again. She went on to earn an MFA from Pacific University and pen articles for Cleaver Magazine, Foreword Reviews, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, Vestal Review, and xoJane. She lives in Portland.

The six stories in her debut short story collection, I’ve Never Done This Before, feature dabblers, addicts, troubled couples, petty criminals, beautiful women, and a pair of ex-bikers gone doughy in middle age. It begins with “Chinook,” the story of one couple—five years married, already drifting—on an errand from Portland to Coos Bay that ends in infidelity. The collection ends with “Doll,” about two disgruntled friends, blazed on skunk weed, on their way to ransack a UPS warehouse after hours.

“For a minute, Tony doubted that Jamal was a real person,” Claire writes. “He was tempted to grab the wheel and spin them across the blacktop. Nothing could hurt them—Jamal’s face was a rubbery mask, grinning wide enough to swallow a grapefruit.”

Though they make bad choices, Claire’s characters seem torn between regret and nostalgia. Set in the Pacific Northwest and gloomier Europe (Berlin, Prague), I’ve Never Done This Before is the hard-won fruit of its author’s labors—a testament to the bravery to battle addiction and the boldness to write fiction.