Robot tech support, helpful zombies, monster hunting in the Lacandan Jungle, a little girl who grows up to be the Ice Queen–and just for fun, a sonnet about a murderous robot. You can find all of this and more in Women and Other Constructs, the first short story collection by Carrie Cuinn.
Having previously encountered Carrie Cuinn’s work mainly in her capacity as an editor – and enjoying it a lot – I was curious to see how I would like her short fiction. The publication of her first – of hopefully many more – collection of short stories seemed a perfect opportunity to find out. And I have to say that the only thing wrong with the collection is its length, because I ended the collection wanting more. The collection contains eight stories and one poem and still only takes 84 pages and I would have loved to read more.
Despite its short length there is a wealth of stories here and when I sat down to write my review and pick my favourite stories to talk about, I had a really hard time, because every time I’d change my mind. In this collection of stories mostly dealing with the position of women in society and how their (self-)perception is shaped by the demands and expectations of that society, I found hardly a bum note. The only item that didn’t work for me was the poem Letter From A Murderous Construct and His Robot Fish, but that probably has more to do with the automatic association I have with struggling through lots of poetry analysis at university than with the quality of the poem. Still, there are three stories that I kept coming back to as my favourites and I wanted to take a closer look at them.
Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance
This humorous story starts with a dog running off with his dead master’s arm and that worthy’s attempt to get it back. But it goes on to show how cruel communities can be to widows and/or spinsters, especially if they are young and poor. However, Mrs Henderson, the young widow in this tale doesn’t let her spirit be dampened by the treatment she receives at the hands of her neighbours and ultimately it’s her own kindness that prevails. I loved the way that Cuinn built this story and the twist at the end.
A Cage, Her Arms
This story resonated with me on different levels. On the one hand, I could sympathise completely with the mother in this story, who doesn’t want to let go of her child, even if it means a better life for them. To see your child move away from you in a direction you can’t follow and which means you’ll never be able to see or hold them again must be excruciating. On the other hand, I could also understand the child’s despair at his mother’s unwillingness to let him go. In a way this story is all about the realities of parenthood and how it consists of letting your child become its own person and make his own choices, however painful they might turn out to be, for them and for you. Though here that tension and the results are taken to the extreme.
About the Mirror and its Pieces
A possible origin story for the Snow Queen of many tales, an explanation for why her heart turned so cold and frozen. This story hit me hard and where it hurts. I just wanted to hold that little girl and hug her and tell her it wasn’t her fault. I wanted to sit the teen down and reassure her that it wasn’t her, it was them and that what they did to her and how they treated her was wrong on all levels. That no child, no person deserves that. I love that it not only gave an explanation of her treatment of the little boys in her fairy tale and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but also made those events tragic, rather than malicious. It was a fabulous story and a great note to end the collection on.
Women and Other Constructs is a wonderful way to discover Carrie Cuinn as a writer and it definitely leaves a taste for more. In her introduction Cuinn mentions she always thought she’d be a novelist and decided to master the short form because she can’t stand not being good at something; if anything this collection shows that she is good at it, remarkably good even. Hopefully there will be many more collections of her short fiction and perhaps even a novel. Regardless, I’ll be there to read them, because Cuinn’s writing is just that good.