In Greek Mythology Cassandra was a priestess of Apollo around the time of the Trojan War. She was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Her main claim to fame was that the God Apollo bestowed on her the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra refused Apollos’ advances, he, as all the Greek Gods are fickle and love taking revenge on mortals who have spurned them, made it so Cassandra kept her gift of prophecy, but turned it into a curse. Yes, instead of just taking her power away he made it so that nobody would believe any of her prophecies. Maybe a metaphor for the collective voice of women. Heard but not heeded.
This is a collection of short stories in which empowered women turn the tables on men. But these are not just any ordinary stories, they are fantastical, supernatural, magical, and I must say most entertaining to read. They are humorous, dark and feminist, but they also, sometimes subtlety, sometimes not, make the reader realize that women throughout history have gotten the short end of the stick. It looks like huge strides have been made in the push for equality. The brave suffragettes who fought and won the vote. Women who have fought for equal pay, women who now lead countries and some of the world’s largest companies. Women’s sport is growing rapidly. Women now fight in the army on the front line. The old-fashioned patriarchal society is well and truly crumbling. And yet this has all happened recently, and many countries, particularly third world, still struggle with draconian chains. However, I have no fear that, if we don’t destroy ourselves first, that the day will come when there will be sexual equality, it’s getting closer all the time. We should all be judged on our merit not our gender.
In the first short story, women are bitten by radioactive cockroaches, which give them serious superpowers. Powers which enable them to flip roles with the men. Now it is men who fear being attacked. They know what it feels like to fear walking alone at night. They carry cans of Raid around with them, as women carry mace in their purse. It’s zany and bizarre, but the message is clear. This reminded me of the cases in the past where women have been attacked and murdered walking alone at night. And reading this story, you realize the power of what even a zany short story can release.
In the second short story a man is critiquing a restaurant online, and yet as you read it, he seems to be critiquing his wife and their failing marriage. Maybe a shot at the modern world of social media, where everybody has the power to critique and hide behind a shield of anonymity.
One story has a woman who is having an affair with her neighbor, while they have sex a ghost preacher from the past is always there calling her “Whore”, telling her she is going straight to hell. I could not help but wonder if he would be heckling her if she were a man.
Kirby is a talented writer and does a wonderful job, using these dark humorous stories to get powerful messages across. I love her style, writing and humour.
Society is still not equal, still slightly skewed in men’s favour. But enormous ground is being made by many brilliant and brave women, in all facets of life, fighting for equality. It is up to both sexes to realize that equality is the only answer. We need to get to the stage where the adjective “empowered” is no longer needed in front of the word woman.
Gwen E. Kirby is a native San Diegan and graduate of Carleton College. She has an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Her stories appear in One Story, Tin House, Guernica, Mississippi Review, Ninth Letter, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Guest editor Aimee Bender selected her story “Shit Cassandra Saw . . .” for Best Small Fictions 2018 and it also appears in the 2018 Wigleaf Top 50. Her story “Midwestern Girl Is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories” won the 2017 DISQUIET Literary Prize for Fiction and she was the 2018-2019 George Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Programs and Finance for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South, where she also teaches creative writing.