Jeanne's Reviews > Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good

Choose Wisely by H.L.  Nelson
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This is an impressive collection of fiction by female authors ranging from the famous to brand new voices. Although the stories are mostly speculative in nature, their style ranges from classical Margaret Atwood-style to dystopian to magical realism to laugh-out-loud humor. Since there are 35 stories in the collection, I thought I'd touch on a few of my favorites.

As a fan of Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, I was pleased to find that the very first story, "Moving On," by Diane Cook, is a classic SF commentary on society and cultural values. There are strong echoes of The Handmaid's Tale in this story, but I could also feel the influence of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, in which the state dictates the fate of the individual. "Moving On" opens with the evocative sentence, "They let me tend to my husband's burial and settle his affairs, which means that for a few days I get to stay in my house, pretend he is away on business while I stand in the closet and smell his clothes." The first paragraph pulls you immediately into the narrator's situation, and the story never lets you go. Throughout, you are wishing, hoping, desperate for a different outcome, and yet you know, the odds are against her. Cook's strong voice propels the reader forward to its unsettling conclusion.

A common topic of discussion in social media today is that of body image, especially the concern that women are being pressured into appearing unnaturally thin. Emily Slaney addresses that subject deftly in her story, "Bear Traps," about a retreat where potential super-star models go to improve their prospects. The writing here captures the voice of shallow and superficial ambition, while the narrator is a fascinating character torn by her desire for approval and her jealousy of the model guests. You may think twice about eating an apple after you read this short story.

Joyce Carol Oates's story, "Spotted Hyenas: A Romance," explores love, quite literally, on the wild side, using a touch of magical realism. In this lush, sensual tale, Mariana's re-connection with a former mentor collides with her mundane marital life. Oates is a master of the literary device, and she pulls out all the stops here, using flashbacks, letters, magical realism, and smart meta-text references to great effect. We are swept quickly into the allure of the hyena, normally an animal most people would find somewhat repulsive, and the conclusion of this story will leave you breathless.

A fourth stand-out for me was the story, "Kennel Club," by Jennifer Pelland, a piece which had me laughing out loud from the very first page. In "Kennel Club," the women are in control, and the men have gone native, hiding out in the wilderness. After the narrator receives a nagging phone call from her mother, our heroine agrees it's time to capture a man so she can procreate. After all, her mother reminds her, "Aren't you ovulating? No time like the present." Setting a trap with a cooler of beer and chips, the narrator bags her man, and thus begins the tale of a fascinating and wildly humorous relationship between the predator and her prey.

If I were to express any complaint about his collection, it's that it's too long. I found it difficult to immerse myself into an overall theme and mood because there were so many shifts, often within a page or two, and I suspect I skimmed a few worthy stories simply because I was overwhelmed. For me, it would have been better to have read this collection in two books, perhaps as volume 1 and 2, as it is much easier to absorb the tone of a collection of 15-18 stories than it is to take in the breadth of 35 very disparate pieces, written in such a diversity of styles. However, if you enjoy SF, fantasy, horror, dystopian, humor, or magical realism, you find something to please in the fine collection.
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Reading Progress

June 4, 2015 – Started Reading
June 4, 2015 – Shelved
June 4, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
July 1, 2015 – Finished Reading

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