SHE WRITES: LOVE, SPAGHETTI AND OTHER STORIES BY YOUNGISH WOMEN edited by Carolyn Foster (Second Story Press), 180 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
A collection of so-called writing by young women gives me the willies.Like those ridiculous Women In Rock issues of Rolling Stone and Spin and the patronizing compilation discs with pretty pink covers, categorization by gender usually does a disservice to the artists' work by implying that girls don't rate on a broader playing field.
But it's depressingly true that since women have been excluded from the traditional literary canon, sometimes the only way to make people sit up and take notice is to highlight identity politics. The key is to avoid condescension.
In her intro to this collection, editor Carolyn Foster draws a parallel between these she-writers and Canlit heavy hitters like the Margarets (Laurence and Atwood), Barbara Gowdy and Anne Michaels.
It's setting the bar a bit too high; nothing here has the jaw-dropping potency of a We So Seldom Look On Love or comes anywhere near the quality in Good Bones.
Characteristic of most anthologies, there are hits and misses. Dana Bath's Bottle Episode, in which a girl struggles with coming out to her lesbian mom about her hetero relationship on a hiking trip, comes across as inane and superficial.
Novelist Christy Ann Conlin (Heave) tries to experiment with narrative in the surreal Floating Bob's Dreams, but, the style alienates us from her key characters.
Elizabeth Ruth, on the other hand, gives us Polish, a confident, keenly felt story about family dynamics, sexuality and a legacy of dysfunctional relationships that starts small and unfurls a startling array of subtle layers and complex characters.
The summer-camp antics and first love in Heather Birrell's Congratulations, Really, hit home with note-perfect retrospective coming-of-age clarity, and the old-timey romance of Crickets, by Natalee Caple, resonates within the frame of a mother's letter to a daughter longing to connect with her roots.
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