Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House

Rob Spillman (Ed). Tin House Books, $18.95 (280p) ISBN 9781935639107
The term "fantastic" describes stories in which things that couldn't or wouldn't occur in the normal world, do. While the stories in this collection, all originally published in the literary journal Tin House, meet that criterion, many of them feel more twee than fantastic or simply weird for weird's sake. Here, the often unnamed female protagonists experience unexplained, unexplainable events that leave them uncomfortable but oddly less miserable than you'd expect. The circumstances vary—turning into a deer is not the same as being strung up in complicated ways by nameless barbecuing perpetrators is not the same as finding yourself in a very large stewpot—yet the stories end up feeling curiously similar. It's not bad writing; it's strategic, an apparent desire to tap into fable, where characters are archetypes, anything can happen, and nothing is questioned, but with the exception of Lydia Millet's "Snow White, Rose Red," it feels flat. In contrast, the stories that work, Karen Russell's "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach," Julia Elliott's "The Wilds," Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie," and Stacey Richter's "The Doll Awakens" create compellingly weird and weirdly compelling narratives by forcing believable, specific characters to grapple with the unexplainable. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/04/2011
Release date: 07/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 281 pages - 978-1-935639-11-4
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