I’m honestly conflicted as I sit down to write a review of Choose Wisely. It isn’t the content that makes me feel conflicted; the anthology throughout is strong, well written, and intriguing. The conflict arises in me trying to decide what approach to take.
After all, in a perfect world I’d just talk about how the anthology is all the things I mentioned above: strong, well written, and intriguing. Inside are a number of writers I downright worship, even more that I would certainly read anything they wrote, and a good amount of writers new to me that will soon get added to one of the two previous lists. I strongly feel that this is the way a review about this book should be written, and would be written if the rules were applied equally to male and female writers equally.
But they aren’t. Choose Wisely is subtitled “35 Women Up To No Good.” Writers in the lists mentioned above include (among others) Joyce Carol Oates, Aimee Bender, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Gwen Beatty, xTx, Jessica McHugh, Joani Reese, Bonnie ZoBell, and Amber Sparks. The book is a feminist anthology of dark fiction. Should this come into play in my review or not?
After all, this is relevant to the book. It’s the central theme that binds the collection and is significant since it means the book is a venue for voices who readers have a significant harder time hearing. But, would I start talking about a collection of male writers by saying they were male and speculating around what it is to be a man within a framework others have defined? I don’t think so, and thus I feel torn because I worry that my biases are even further bound up in what seems important than what I’d previously thought.
Why can’t I just talk about the fear and coldness I feel by what the reasonable and sympathetic narrator of Diane Cook’s “Moving On” relates?
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. I cook dinners for two and throw the rest away, or overeat, depending on my mood. I make a time capsule of pictures I won’t be allowed to keep. I bury it in the yard for a new family to discover.
But once that work is done, the Placement Team orders me to pack two bags of essentials, good for any climate. They take the keys to our house, our car. A crew will come in, price it all, and a sale will be advertised; all the neighbors will come. I won’t be here for any of this, but I’ve seen it happen to others. The money will go into my dowry, and then someday, hopefully, another man will marry me.
Can’t I simply get everyone to laugh with me at the humor in the ‘choose your own adventure’ style “Hard Choices” by Tina Connolly where the choices so often lead to getting eaten by Bitsy?
Suddenly Bitsy is there to save you. She helps you stand and dries your tears. She takes off her shirt and uses it to bandage your wrist. You feel a lot better. Then she eats you.
Shouldn’t I be able to simply revel in the horror I feel when the narrator of Jessica McHugh’s “In the Silt” discovers her father used to drown women while having sex with them and learns she has the same urges?
Many people disagreed with me, notably the handful of boys who died while I honed my skills—they never reached perfection, unfortunately. While my mind was just as destructive as my father’s, I didn’t have the practice in coercing my partners to play by my rules and keep their mouths shut. And when the occasional accident occurred, I didn’t have the know- how to hide it. It was one of those times a girl really needed her father around.
I should be able to address the writing in Choose Wisely exactly on these terms, because the writing inside amply merits that kind of consideration. It’s an impressive collection, consistent in its strengths while varied in its presentation, emotional impact and content. There is no need to qualify any analysis based on the gender of the authors, but my cultural programming is all too evident in the fact that I still do so significantly ponder the feminist aspects of the book.
Let’s leave my hang-ups and shortcomings to me, though. Choose Wisely is above and unhampered by them. Just dig it as a stellar collection of high caliber writing. After all, that’s what it is.