I spent the entire month of February away from home. I talked to young girls in a STEAM program in SoCal about being an author. I did a workshop at Savannah State on fiction. I spent a few weeks at a residency in Georgia, working and getting to know the city. I finished up with AWP this last weekend, so it’s been a busy month.
Tragically, I didn’t find a book I loved in all of last month’s stack. So this Antler Review is mostly shorts.
The first thing I loved was this Jill Lepore essay in the New Yorker about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have to be honest here and admit that I’ve never loved Frankenstein. I value and respect the concept of Mary Shelley as the first science fiction writer, and I love that she inaugurated so much of the scifi/horror genre that I spend my life trying to get to know better. But I’ve always loathed how reticent and anxious the text is; how much of the action happens away from where the reader can see. This essay digs deep into the coding of the monster, both as an exemplar of the Other and as a tool of a woman writer dealing with the heartbreak of maternal loss. It made me think about the work in a whole new way.
Shing Yin Khor made me cry about noodles in this graphic piece for Catapult. Anyone who has people in their life who say “I love you” with food will probably have the same reaction. Reading it over again to write this, I teared up once more. “I made breakfast for someone who had wronged me and it felt bad. Feeding someone I hate is a lie.”
Guernica published this beautiful sobbing wonder of a short memoir essay by Terese Mailhot, and I was so moved by the way she connected the various sources of pain in her life. Sex work and academia and what it means to make good all come together in this terrible storm. I’m still feeling it in my jaw, weeks later. Plus, this dark gem of truth: “You can write the truth explicitly. Like the cold cracking open a healing wound, the truth can be that way. Nothing is too ugly for this world.”
In news that should surprise no one, I love photography of fat bodies that places people like me in joy, in motion, and in a normalizing light. My life was materially improved when I realized I could follow a bunch of beautiful fat people on Instagram. That process affirms me, normalizes me to myself, and keeps me happier (so long as I never read comments.) Body positivity has done so much for so many women, but fat men are often left out of this self-love-fest. This collection of photos of fat men in motion by Anthony Patrick Manieri is absolutely stunning. It includes a truly diverse range of subjects: disabled men, queer men, trans men, older men. And it inspired me to look at fat bodies with ever-more kindness.
Fiction stole my heart this month, as it always does. Jason Kimble wrote “If Only Kissing Made it So” for Cast of Wonders, and it’s the kind of marvelous story that does some fancy tricks so effortlessly that even other writers can’t find the seams in it. “Kissing” takes up the human fixation on going back and doing things differently, but makes it as complicated and impossible as it actually would be. It’s not a fairy tale and it’s not “Back to the Future.” It deals in that sweetness and regret that only comes with early love and makes it clear that no matter what magic (or sufficiently advanced science) comes your way, there’s no do-overs in life. There is only memory, and your diminishing relationship to who you used to be.
“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”by Phenderson Djèlí Clark in Fireside Fiction is that rare kind of story that will not leave me. Each of the teeth comes with its own origin story. Each is clever, heartbreaking, and does a bit of scaffolding work to bring worlds together. I caught a whiff of Wakanda and the scent of the Slayer coming through, and ended up crowing with delight more than once. This story is an absolute treat, and people who read it will never again forget that Washington’s teeth were not hippo ivory and they were not wood. They came from people. Those people deserve stories as good as this one.
Finally, I am exactly the kind of over-upholstered liberal that McSweeney’s is made for, so New Erotica for Feminists by Brooke Preston, Caitlin Kunkel, and Fiona Taylor was a home run as far as I’m concerned. Each of the vignettes contains an impossibly equitable world where women aren’t menaced in the course of a normal day. It’s the kind of funny that’s rooted in terror and frustration and exhaustion. Since I’m feeling all those things these days, I’m glad someone is helping me laugh about it.