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Book review: Fist of the Spider Woman

Book review: Fist of the Spider Woman

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Anthology is enough fun to give some readers morning-after guilt
Let’s face it. The  problem with most horror flicks is the iconic shot of the heroine screaming and fleeing from the quintessential monster. Not so with Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire. Instead, these women lust after and often pleasure themselves with the monster.

Packed with an impressive array of creepy tales, textured prose, queer characters and often submissive sexual fetishes, this anthology is enough fun to give some readers morning-after guilt.

Here there be monsters: from giant slimy slugs to invisible presences that can literally get inside us if we let them. These stories ask if we will surrender to the other because we secretly long for it.

That other could be the mutilated Bloody Mary who materializes in the bathroom mirror asking you to cut your face. The other could be a vampire who claims  her brood against their will. When they oppose her, she shackles them and taunts them with physical ecstasy. The common theme  in most of Fist’s stories is the idea that surrender is arousing.

“Sido” by Ottawa contributor Suki Lee ranks among the collection’s sexiest numbers, depicting  a heroine longing for her saucy Parisian landlady. She does not care how badly her landlady treats her along the way, failing to notice things that might otherwise set  off alarm bells about a possibly bad end.

A rather overshadowed selection of poetry appears between these pleasurable stories, which also examine romantic themes. Kestrel Barnes’ “Shark” could pander to a sort of Jaws mentality, but she elevates her prose while still applying familiar tropes such as the sight of a distant shark fin along the shoreline. Barnes writes of the peculiarities of a family living along a northwestern rainforest, how the family is marked by a rare shark and by the matriarch’s true love.

Nomy Lamm treads an ambiguous line about a protagonist who may be a paranoid schizophrenic in “Conspiracy of Fuckers.” Is the government monitoring the heroine because she publishes a radical zine? Do they really want her  to assimilate? As a bonus, “Conspiracy” includes an intersexed character as the main’s ex.

In this nice counterpoint to Arsenal Pulp’s enjoyable Queer Fear series, it is editor Amber Dawn, though, who lands a haymaker of a story. In “Here Lies the Last Lesbian Rental in East Vancouver,” two lovers play  a sadomasochistic game of hide-and-seek on the last night in their rental house. Their game signifies the end of queer sanctuary in their richly storied neighbourhood.

Dawn somehow successfully blends a mix of housing and activist history, BDSM, multiple love stories and a ghost tale to concoct the book’s creepiest story. Neighbours share urban legends of a ghost residing in the house’s basement. A sense of spectral foreboding hangs over one of the heroines who has always abhorred the basement, but finds herself blindfolded and seeking a hiding space among the musty shelves  of canned vegetables.

Fist feels like that friend who knows you far too well. When they hear you run down a promiscuous regular at the bar, they know you secretly want them.

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