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book review:

Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire

Drawing on humour, a diverse spectrum of sexual fantasies, and a range of rebel­lious queer characters, Amber Dawn’s Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, subverts and transgresses the tra­ditional horror genre and gives a voice to some of the darkest, deepest, and fiercest fantasies of horror and desire. This collec­tion of short stories and poems queers the traditional horror genre of the predictable damsel in distress archetype and the too often portrayed female character in need of manly heroism. Instead, this anthology offers a diverse, and often witty, meditation on the question: “What are you afraid of?” Without question, many of the stories are politically charged, from Suki Lee’s Sido, an S/M story about a weeklong stay in Paris with a landlady who punishes her lodger for not feeding her rooftop owls, to Conspiracy of Fuckers by Nomy Lamm, which involves a female phone sex-worker who, while pretending to listen to her clients’ ‘daddy and little girl’ role play, taps out the new­est issue of her zine exposing government control and surveillance. Other stories, and two personal favourites of the collection, Kestrel Barnes’ Shark and Amber Dawn’s Here Lies the Last Lesbian Rental in East Vancouver, reveal a family portrait of “queer-spawns” taken over by a shark-woman, as Barnes writes it, and a dyke couple living in an old house passed down through a close-knit community of friends that is haunted by a ravenous lesbian ghost.

While these scenarios perhaps at first seem too far-fetched to be read as address­ing the question posed in Dawn’s introduction–“What are you afraid of?”–these stories position themselves as standing out from the typical, standard depiction of hor­ror not just to rebel, but to insist upon, as Dawn herself writes, “revamping what bur­dens us.” What Fist of the Spider Woman most notably, and perhaps most interestingly, achieves has to do with the writers’ trans­formation of the reality within their stories from that of a minority to a universal voice. In other words, the stories and characters within this anthology aren’t just reclaiming the horror genre and the same-old vulner­able role of women within it. These stories also create a positive space where readers can explore diverse narratives and fantasies written by queer women who intersect fear, power, and sexuality. (D. Brooke Ford)

Amber Dawn, ed., $18.95, 185 pgs, Arsenal Pulp Press, 200-341 Water St. Vancouver, BC

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