Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories

An 1892 "emancipated duel" between two women is about to take place as the overseeing (female) doctor drolly remarks, "we will never be emancipated from the stupidity of men." That theme lingers throughout Gwen E. Kirby's remarkable 21-story debut, Shit Cassandra Saw, as women love, leave, disdain and suffer through centuries all manner of men--abusive, manipulative, definitely unintelligent, some even dead.

Kirby's (partially) titular opener, "Shit Cassandra Saw that She Didn't Tell the Trojans Because at that Point F%@& Them Anyway," brilliantly sets the collection's comically scathing tone: knowing the future leaves Cassandra of the unbelievable oracles "done, full the f%@& up, soul weary." If she could, she'd tell her fellow women about tampons, washing machines, mace, epidurals, but "the best thing of all" is the mighty Trojan legacy reduced to that little square package "carried in every hopeful wallet." That same uncomfortably dark-but-brilliant comedy carries into "A Few Normal Things that Happen a Lot," in which entitled men--whose careless catcalls easily morph into fatal violence--get their comeuppance when would-be victims develop superpowers that decimate male control.

Kirby writes with stunningly acerbic wit, whether she's empowering or exposing (or both) her diverse characters. From teens on the verge of adulthood, abandoned wives, cheating spouses, symbiotic sisters, Kirby creates familiar, identifiable girls and women, and places them in strikingly unexpected situations: conversing with an 18th-century ghost preacher, playing softball against a school where a shooting recently happened, obsessing over a stuffed (once-real) wallaby found in left luggage. Wielding humor and shock, Kirby audaciously unmasks gender disparity with delightful, disturbing aplomb. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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