September 24th, 2010

short stories

This Woman's Army

Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, by Sandra McDonald is a gorgeous, clever collection - I love collections of stories where they all appear to be part of the same world, and build upon each other - Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu being one of the best of this type.  McDonald's stories are clever and witty with an edge of surrealism, and her world a strangely altered version of ours.  Indeed, I'm not sure if all the stories are in the same world at all, but the sensibility and authorial voice are close enough that they read beautifully as a set.  I particularly enjoyed the integration of queer themes, including gay, lesbian and trans characters, many the protagonists of particular stories.

Some of the stories have been published before, but these are my favourites of the 2010 material:

Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy - this quirky piece shows our heroine through the eyes of a miserable, drunk cowboy she hires as her guide on a journey, and his own inner journey to come to terms with himself.  Only that description makes the story sound a lot more saccarine than it is!  I was impressed at how the story danced the line between misery, instrospection, and sly humour.

The Goddess and Lieutenant Teague - a fairly gruelling but powerful story about war and friendship and illicit same-sex love in the army - the twist being that the army is entirely composed of women.

Diana Comet and the Collapsible Orchestra - the most melancholy of the stories featuring Diana herself, this one depicts her in later age, amid a flurry of colourful characters and other people swept up in forbidden love, while she contemplates her own regrets and life.

The entire book is worth reading, though, especially if you're interested in themes like gender and sexuality, if you enjoy subjects like adventuresses, cowboys and imaginary tourism, or if you like your angsty fiction wrapped up in humour and surrealism.  This is one of those collections where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.