cover image Shit Cassandra Saw

Shit Cassandra Saw

Gwen E. Kirby. Penguin Books, $17 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-14-313662-0

Kirby’s excellent debut collection follows a series of women empowered by new circumstances, sometimes with fantastical results. In “A Few Normal Things That Happen a Lot,” a man tells a woman to smile, and she responds by revealing a mouthful of fangs, which she uses to bite off the man’s hand, “crack[ing] the bones and spit[ting] them out.” Another woman in the same story uses her “laser eyes” to transform a man who gropes her into the exact change for her bus fare. In “The Best and Only Whore of Cwm Hyfryd, 1886,” the women of a Welsh settlement in Patagonia are generally too tired to have sex with their husbands, leaving the job to a sex worker. That woman, meanwhile, writes letters home to her brother and pretends to be married. The prose is sharp and calibrated to suit each of Kirby’s temporally and geographically diverse settings. She is even able to wring pathos from a story written in the format of a Yelp review, narrated by one of the rare male voices in the book, in the very funny “Jerry’s Crab Shack: One Star,” in which reviewer Gary F.’s account of a miserable night at the Crab Shack slips into a chronicle of his crumbling marriage. It’s all accomplished through risk-taking and assured, well-developed craft. This is remarkable. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Co. (Jan.)