Thursday, November 17, 2016

What Did Miss Darrington See?

Jessica Amanda Salmonson, ed.
Completed 11/13/2016 Reviewed 11/14/2016
5 stars

This is an anthology of feminist supernatural short stories written between 1850 and 1989.  Almost all the stories have a ghost, but none are truly horror stories.  At least not like how we consider horror today.  They are just mostly ghost stories with the most common theme of women trying to be authentic.  None of the stories are man-hating, although one of the stories has a man who is rather a cad.  They are almost all simply about fulfillment in a woman’s life, or the lack thereof, and that issue brought forth by the appearance of a ghost. 

Many of the older stories are classical gothic story-telling.  A few are magical realism.  Several deal with lesbian relationships, or at the very least have homoerotic overtones.  Some of these in the older stories feature what was known as Boston marriages, relationships between two women who lived together without the support of a man.  The relationships were not always sexual, but in these stories, the implication that they were is pretty evident.

I really enjoyed most of the stories.  I found them quite emotionally engaging without being maudlin or soapy.  There were only a few I didn’t care for.  One, “The Teacher” was about a man who goes back to visit an old school teacher who barely remembers him.  Another, “Pandora Pandemonia” was a short piece mostly filled with classical imagery.   I didn’t get either of these stories.

Two pieces really stood out for me.  One was “The Little, Dirty Girl” by Joanna Russ.  I was surprised by this piece because I’ve only read novels of Russ, and they are Science Fiction and very avant-garde.  I found her novels difficult to understand, but this story was not only understandable, but very touching.  It’s about a woman who sees a little girl wearing a dirty out-of-date dress.  The girl follows the woman around and the woman eventually begins to take care of the girl.  It soon becomes evident that the little girl is a ghost although she manifests quite physically.  It also becomes clear that the girl represents the woman’s inner child and helps her reconcile her own mother-issues.

The second piece I really liked was “The Doll”.  It’s about a woman who becomes obsessed with a life-sized representation of the former mistress of a castle.  This is one of those stories with homoerotic overtones.  The editor does a great job of providing introductions to each story.  These intros are really helpful in inspiring thoughts and questions about the stories.  Particularly, it made me wonder if this is really about suppression of homoerotic feelings, or about closure in obsessive relationships.

A third story I wanted to mention is “A Friend In Need”.  It’s a relatively newer story about two women who discover they were each other’s imaginary friends growing up.  It explores what we sometimes will do to get through abusive childhoods.  This story was imaginative and emotionally gripping. 

I give this book five out of five stars.  It’s the first book in a long time to which I had an emotional response.  I started out appreciating it academically, but then with each story, it drew me farther and farther in, so that by the last story, I was simply captivated.  I don’t expect everyone to have the same response to this book.  The stories are a lot more subtle than what we’re used to.  But if you’re up for a subtle set of stories written by women about women, then I highly recommend this anthology.

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