Review: The Collection

It’s a small queer literary world out there – much smaller than it should be – and so it’s no surprise that somehow word of a trans fiction anthology reached me early. Not a surprise, maybe, but I’m still so glad it happened.

Now, what may well be the first major trans fiction anthology (non-erotica category, at least) has a lot resting on its shoulders. But The Collection, edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod and released this month by Topside Press, by and large delivers.

There are a lot of things that the first major collection of trans fiction could have been. I think a lot of you know what I’m talking about. If you grew up with, say, LGB fiction anthologies, you know that one quirky but bad story that gets published over and over again. A little funny, a little sexy, one great line, but mostly total crap – ruined either by trying to show the editors how TOTALLY EFFING QUEER you and/or your characters are or by failing in any meaningful sense to actually be fiction.

The worst thing is that, for a long time, people took things published in queer anthologies as artistic standards for the community. Shall we say, the soft bigotry of lowering expectations of ourselves?

But the anthology-consuming queer public has gotten older and wiser, and I think the editors of The Collection knew that. Just because many stories will stand together in an anthology doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also stand apart, and that’s really where The Collection delivers.

Right off the bat, Imogen Binnie’s “I Met a Girl Named Bat Who Met Jeffrey Palmer” twerks your expectations. Binnie’s story appears at first to be, at least plausibly, the ravings of a Jeffrey Palmer fan girl, until you realize that Jeffrey Palmer is a fictional personage, i.e., not just some inside joke you’re not in on. The story lands as a reminder that even even fresh faces can tell tales.

The Collection continues strong, with Carter Sickels’ “Saving” and Ryka Aoki’s “To The New World,” my personal favorite stories in the anthology.

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about Sickels’ story, where art, infidelity, loss, change and memory all smash together in the middle-of-nowhere mid-South. “Saving” creates an open space for the reader to walk in, even if it seems booby-trapped. I found myself substituting the locales in Sickels’ story for ones familiar to me, something I strive to let the reader do with my own writing, allowing me a refreshing depth of connection with the narrative. (By the by, Sickels apparently has a new novel out, and I fully intend to get it.)

And what can I say of Aoki’s “To The New World”? Everyone who has that shitty friend – the white cis feminist who throws around the T word and says things like “women women” and whose nose is stuck up so high it’s a wonder it doesn’t bleed all over you – everyone who has that friend will love “To The New World.” But Aoki’s story is not just one of laughing off hypocritical radicals. It’s a story of connection with your past while you mold your present/future, and I think it’s just gorgeous.

There are, of course, stories in The Collection that didn’t gel for me, things I might not have selected – but really, you can say that of every anthology ever. And what doesn’t float my boat might be your story to launch a thousand ships. Some of the talent here might be a little underdone, but it’s also exciting to see artists in an early stage of their development, and I truly believe we’ll hear great things from a number of these writers in the future.

I’m sure many of these stories will stick with you after you’ve closed the covers of The Collection. Some other standouts for me included “Other Women” by Casey Plett, “Tomboy of the Western World” by Terence Diamond, “Runaways” by Calvin Gimpelevich, and the closing stories of the volume, “Ride Home Under a Thunderstorm” by Oliver Pickle, “Entries” by Riley Calais Harris, and “Power Out” by Adam Halwitz. A special mention goes to “Dean & Teddy” by Elliott DeLine, as I never quite imagined I’d actually like fiction about a support group.

The stories in The Collection will confound your ability to say or see this or that about the trans experience – as though there were only the one. The writers, Canadian and American, bring life to characters from many different points of the human experience. It doesn’t lean too hard to the transmasculine or transfeminine, and leaves plenty of room for those who would say they’re both – or neither. Nor are these all tales of the young, hip and educated – you’ll find here, too, tales of parenting, the closet, and aging as a trans person.

I guess that is perhaps the unique thing about The Collection. It’s not an anthology about this or that or by this or that subset of trans people. It’s just fiction touching on trans experiences. Hopefully it won’t remain unique for long – here’s to hoping that these and other writers will soon be stamping their voices all over the literary world.

The Collection will be available from Topside Press on October 16, 2012.

PS: Topside Press will be providing free copies of The Collection to QTBGL prisoners, which I think is totally nifty. To donate or to learn more, click here.

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