Okay. I’ve never been good at reviewing short story collections, so I’ll just start out by saying why I chose to read this book. For the past few months, I’ve been actively seeking out fiction with nonbinary themes or narrators. Specifically, I’ve been looking for books with agender, intersex, gender fluid, and/or asexual narrators and main characters. These are ridiculously hard to find, and I was glad to come across this book. In the introduction by Brit Mandelo, it says that the collection contains representations of “a broad range of gender and sexual identities, not only those exploring a spectrum but also those who occupy spaces outside of it.” The introduction also admits that there is a “lack of alternative pronouns and…of intersex folks as tellers and protagonists.” So, not everything I am looking for, but at least a good start.
I don’t read a lot of story collections, for two reasons. First, I’m picky about short stories, and generally only like those written by short fiction masters. Second, when I read story after story, I tend to end up in fiction-fatigue, where I don’t have a chance to ponder one story before the next begins. For the first of these, I just took a gamble with this collection. For the second, I chose to read only one story per day, to give my brain time to adjust between them. I therefore read the collection of 17 stories over the last few weeks.
In terms of enjoyment, I’d say that I liked about half the stories presented – which, for a collection, is a pretty high mark for me. I would never expect to enjoy every single writing style or plot or character, and normally I think I enjoy only around a quarter of a collection except in rare cases. My primary interest in reading this was for exploration, however, not necessarily enjoyment (though that’s a great side benefit!). In terms of exploration, I found the collection…okay. Perhaps that was due to my expectation going in. I expected far more nonbinary narrators, a far wider range of sexualities, and – because of the subtitle – far more speculative fiction. (There were quite a few stories that weren’t speculative at all, and more only minimally.) In looking at other reviews of this book, I see many have the same complaints, particularly regarding the lack of nonbinary gender identities and speculative fiction.
That’s not to say that neither were there, or that this isn’t a collection worth reading. It is, and many of the stories were very well-crafted. As a work of general LGBTQ fiction, it hits the mark. As a work of Q speculative fiction, however, it’s sort of hit-or-miss. Again, though, as I said above, it wasn’t everything I was looking for, but it really was a good start. It introduced me to authors I want to see more from, and the introduction talked about other works of fiction that I now want to seek out. It’s the kind of collection I wish was more widely read, and I highly recommend it to those seeking out extremely diverse LGBTQ fiction.
PS – My favorite stories were Sex with Ghosts (Sarah Kanning), Bonehouse (Keffy R.M. Kehrli), Eye of the Storm (Kelley Eskridge), and Sea of Cortez (Sandra McDonald).