I have nothing against short stories, but I tend to gravitate away from them when picking up a book to read. When I read short stories I am never disappointed. But for some reason, my fingers always itch for a novel. Perhaps it’s that addiction to character development? Who knows. What I do know, is that when my book club needed a last minute book added– I knew what I wanted on the list: A Tyranny of Petticoats.
The story behind the origin of this book is something that is strangely personal to me. I read Spotswood’s journey and realized that this is something all women experience on some level; but unlike most tales I’ve been told, Spotswood found success at the end of her journey. I couldn’t be happier she did!
“I think all women should be able to make it on their own,” Frankie said. “It’s not about needed a man or not — it just means she knows she can do whatever she sets out to do.”
Jessica Spotswood, the editor of this collection, got the idea when one of her friends had just gotten a horror anthology was to be published. Spotswood was fascinated by the idea of a short story collection but intimidated. It was a no-brainer for her to edit an anthology of feminist historical fiction. Growing up, Spotswood had been immersed in history just a few miles from Gettysburg, PA. She had constantly read historical fiction, but the content featuring women was limited: Alcott, Wilder, Burnett, Mitchell– and the stories were ones that fit in a specific narrative. Spotswood craved to hear about the true contributions of women, particularly queer, disabled, or colored women, who had sadly been erased from history.
History wasn’t just a collection of dates I memorized from textbooks; it was tactile and ever present.
A few weeks later, she was at a writing retreat with some other female authors. They encouraged Spotswood to pursue the project– and offered to write! Slowly, the idea began to become real. Diverse female authors wrote short stories about American girls at some point in history where the setting is key to the story itself. The collection that resulted covers incredible stories between the years 1210-1968. Our group of women all has diverse backgrounds, sexualities, classes, religions, opinions, and passions. Some of the women are born Americans, some are merely in the Americas. And while our women are ground in the Americas, the genre of our stories isn’t grounded at all. Overarching, this is a collection of “historical fiction”, but rarely do I feel like these short stories can fit into so simple a mold. This collection of stories is vivid, engaging, and intriguing while crossing all genres.
I know I’m supposed to be a good girl. I know I’m supposed to be happy doing needlework samplers and baking potatoes in coal and whatnot. But Lord, I love running from the law.
This collection housed the gamut of stories. I won’t speak about all of them, but a few really stuck out to me:
The Journey by Marie Lu: I’ve never read anything by Marie Lu, but I will certainly see her out now. A story of fear and survival in Alaska, beautifully told. We get to learn about Inuit folklore and how the Inuit and the White Man made attempts to coexist. Our protagonist, Yakone is incredibly strong and shows women that there are consequences for all actions.
El Destinos by Leslye Walton: I wasn’t expecting magical realism to be in this book for some reason. Genre-crossing seems like such a real thing to me, even though literature is fully fluid. But this story of three Mexican American sisters during the Texas annexation shows the power of words– specifically that of what your mind assumes through omission. Even in a short 20 pages, the familial bonds are palpable. I certainly could have read a full-length novel of this girls, but I also love the mystery we are left with. I still wonder about this story long after I finished it.
Pearls by Beth Revis: While I saw the twist coming from early on, I love every word in this story. This story proves that all girls need strong female role models. This was also written by Beth Revis, who’s Across the Universe trilogy remains one of my LEAST favorite YA series of all time. This provides a lot of redemption. I might even read more of Revis’s works someday. … Maybe.
City of Angels by Lindsay Smith: This story caught me off guard more than most stories. I don’t know what I expected when reading about women who had moved to Los Angeles to become movie stars, only have America join WWII and they needed to work in the factories… This certainly isn’t your typical Rosie the Riveter-style story. But it is a beautiful story of friendship and coming to understand who you are.
As a child, I also read lots of historical fiction and fantasy. Only in those genres for my middle grade and YA reading level could I find characters that I related to. One series, Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce, I read until the binding broke. I craved strong female characters to relate to, to learn with, to understand. Alanna was one of the few characters who really spoke to me. If A Tyranny of Petticoats had existed when I was younger, it would have been yet another book that I broke the binding on.
Am I wrong about love? Is it founded on mutual respect, on like meeting like, not on heart-pounding, stomach-churning nervousness and petty compliments?
Thankfully, unlike many anthologies upon the first release, A Tyranny of Petticoats was widely and well received. A second book is already on the way: The Radical Element will feature short stories about women in history who acted as heroines despite being in the margins and intersections. I am super excited to pick this up when it is published in March– the stories in A Tyranny of Petticoats have sparked my interest and imagination in a way I haven’t felt in years. While I would have enjoyed reading much more on some of our characters, there were some stories I could have left behind. But that’s what makes anthologies so wonderful– if you don’t enjoy something just wait for a few pages, something new will come along.
What do you think?
- Have you read A Tyranny of Petticoats? What did you think?
- Do you enjoy reading short story collections? What is your favorite?
- What about short stories do you enjoy? What don’t you enjoy?
- What other feminist fiction can you recommend to me?