CBR Bingo Square: Snake
I don’t read a lot of short stories these days except for work, so when the description of Lisa Taddeo’s Ghost
Lover piqued my interest, I went ahead and put a library hold on it. I felt optimistic: I’d liked both Carmen Maria Machado’s and Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collections when I read them in the past couple years.
Well. Taddeo’s a solid writer, for sure, but I did not like this collection much at all. I stubbornly finished so I could say I had, and I’m kinda glad because the last story had a moment of unexpected tenderness that closed it out, but overall these were just not my cup of tea. The overall tone is decidedly sour and acrid, and the only people who are portrayed more harshly than beautiful women are women who fall short of beauty and desirability though they burn with desire. And the women in these stories are absolutely venomous to each other and, at times, to their objects of desire, and also to themselves. (Hence: snake.)
It’s not that I need everything to be all feminist sisterhood perfection, and not that I demand perfectly likable protagonists all the time. But the underlying viciousness in these stories, and the everyone turns on each other and on themselves, grew exhausting. Perhaps part of it is just that I like fiction where I feel like the author has some affection for their characters, and Taddeo seemed not at all to like hers. And maybe I would’ve disliked it less if she wasn’t such a capable writer, because she absolutely slithers into your feelings and fucks them up some, in a way that a lesser writer would not be able to do. The rating solely reflects my reaction, not her skill.
Content notes: there’s plenty of body image issues here, fatphobia, some allusions to sexual abuse and suicidal ideation.
If you want some stories that feel similarly disillusioned but not quite so sharply venomous, then I’d toss out a suggestion for Katherine Mansfield, whose work I spent a lot of time with this spring.