Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fantastic Women by Rob Spillman

Fantastic Women is a collection of short stories edited by Rob Spillman and published by Tin House Press. There are eighteen stories, each written by a different female author and each being quite odd.

I've mentioned recently how the short story has been growing on me and how I've been learning to appreciate them more. This book was a mixed bag for me. Some of the stories were done very well. Some I thought did not make use of the short story mode adequately, being too abrupt. Some of the stories I just didn't like.

The stories are presented in alphabetical order by author and the first one was the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was by Aimee Bender, my second favorite female author. Her story, all of six pages long and titled Americca, involves a ghost who leaves gifts for the narrator's family.

Then came four stories I didn't like, followed by a bizarre "story" by Lydia Davis called Five Fictions from the Middle of the Night which seem to be ideas for stories. Each is one or two paragraphs in length. By this time I was starting to weary of the book but then Rikki Ducornet, author of Netsuke, revived my interest with a dandy of a story called The Dickmare. It is also very short (six pages) and was about the relationship of a couple of oysters.

After a couple of odd, well-written stories that I didn't particularly like, Miranda July put forth an awful one. I have never understood Miranda July's appeal. I don't get her as an actress. I don't get her as a filmmaker. I don't get her as an artist. I don't get her as a writer. I didn't get her story Oranges. I don't understand why people are gushing about her new project, It Chooses You other than it's Miranda July. Ooh, ah, ooh. If Sean Hagins or Jenny Hohensee did this, no one would care. If I ranked all eighteen stories in this book, July's would be 18th, even behind Davis' lame effort.

The last half of the book is strong. Kelly Link writes the longest of the stories, Light, which is a strange sci-fi feeling piece. I will definitely look for more by her to read. Plus, she and her husband operate Small Beer Press, a well-regarded indy publishing house.

Three other writers in the latter half of the book - Lydia Millet, Gina Oschner and Karen Russell - also wrote stories so good and so well done that I'll be looking for more to read by them. Millet had a collection of short stories that was a finalist for the Pulitzer. Karen Russell has written two novels that have received a lot of attention. A former volunteer at the library had read both and thought they were mediocre and so I held off on them. No longer.

I liked this book as a sampler of authors. I found some unfamiliar names that I'd like to explore further. I reaffirmed my likings and of Ms. Bender and Ms. Ducornet and my dislike of Ms. July. And I read some folks I'll probably never read again. All in all a solid book and one I'd recommend, despite it's unevenness.

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