"Kearns writes in a precise prose…, delivering sharp images and observant barbs…. The novel’s daring critique of today’s patriarchy never feels didactic or forced.… A bold, politically minded tale with a spiritual soul."– Kirkus Reviews
A feminist alternative history novel explores the morality of violence.
In a world slightly different from readers’ own, women suffer the same primordial trespasses against them: unwanted sexual advances, harassment, violence, silencing. In this realm, however, a vigilante organization exists in order to strike back against those who trespass against them. One woman who has suffered more than most is Averil Parnell. The lone survivor of an infamous massacre meant to snuff out the first-ever class of female Roman Catholic priests, Averil is of two minds on the nature of violent justice. The church teaches forgiveness, of course, but some acts may be impossible to pardon. “What do you do with the anger?” Averil muses while counseling a young woman who wants to kill her male blackmailer. “And the young woman’s more immediate, more pressing concern: What should I do with it?” Regardless of Averil’s association (or lack thereof) with extralegal groups, her symbolism and mysticism place her at the center of an ever expanding cult of admirers and believers even as her failure to meet a different vow—that of celibacy—threatens to upend everything this priest has built. Whether peaceful or violent, no movement that challenges the status quo can hope to escape the notice of the powers that be. Kearns writes in a precise prose that elegantly skates the line between literary and conversational, delivering sharp images and observant barbs: “Nothing could rattle her calm, not the seedy diner with its greasy windows and tasteless meat loaf, nor the equally seedy convenience store across the street, where she sensed the usual unwanted male attention as soon as she pushed through the door.” The world the author has created is inventive and provocative, but she does not rely on premise alone to sustain the book. Averil and the other point-of-view characters are fully formed and richly motivated, and the novel’s daring critique of today’s patriarchy never feels didactic or forced. As in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel offers an alternate reality that feels disturbingly real. It demands the reader live inside it and see who gets destroyed.
A bold, politically minded tale with a spiritual soul.
Thirty-six spellbinding stories about the active, spirited lives of women.
Female characters are still often relegated to the shadows in literature, written only as supporting devices to prop up the journeys of the male characters. This is not the case in this much-needed anthology. In Sarah Marian Seltzer’s “Ironing,” a story of first pre-pubescent love, the female gaze and female sexual desire are centered. Here, a schoolgirl's first crush—and her ensuing desire to change herself into the kind of girl her crush would like—deepens into a commentary on both beauty and male predatory behavior. In "Bringing Down the Clouds” by Kathleen Alcalá, Estela, the gatekeeper of a home for female survivors of domestic violence and their children, is drawn into a secret society of women who seek greater rights. And in Kim Chinquee’s “Physics,” a single mom working on her thesis tries to face the truth about a boyfriend who is no good. One of the most compelling tales is Alison Newall’s “Heart Like a Drum,” in which a staid PTA mom slowly transitions into a leopard and flees suburbia for the wild. The stories here run the gamut of romantic love, female friendship, familial relationships, and workplace politics. But throughout each is the common denominator of an active female character who embarks on her own hero’s journey. Structured in five parts (Resistance, Solidarity, Entanglements, Mother Figures, and Transformations), this anthology hearkens back to the groundbreaking collections of women’s writing published in the 1980s and '90s in a glorious homage. The editor is to be lauded for the effort at diversity that showcases women from a multiplicity of identities.
With prose that ranges from the humorous to the lyric and forms that range from the real to the magical, here is a vital addition to contemporary literature.