Tin House, Fantastic Women, and a Plea for Angela Carter

1. Rob Spillman opens the event by invoking the word “sorceress.” 2. Elissa Schappell steps in for Karen Russell and reads “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach.”

On Tuesday night, Tin House and McNally Jackson celebrated the release of Fantastic Women, an anthology that sounds exactly the way it’s named. Featuring 18 stories by contemporary women writers, each story is vaguely reminiscent of Franz Kafka, Mary Shelley, and Angela Carter. (I’m realizing that Angela Carter may not be the biggest staple in the American literary consciousness, but goddamn it, she should be. Go read The Bloody Chamber. Right now.)

The anthology spawned from the Fall 2007 issue of Tin House and features works by the likes of Lydia Millet, Miranda July, Karen Russell, Gina Zucker, Kelly Link, Lydia Davis, and Samantha Hunt. The evening focused more acutely on Zucker, Russell, and Hunt.

1. Gina Zucker reads “Big People.” 2. Tin House founding editors Rob Spillman and Elissa Schappell with editorial assistant Emma Komlos-Hrobsky.

After Tin House founding editor Rob Spillman likened the act of reading the anthology to rowing ashore on the island of a sorceress, Gina Zucker went up to read “Big People.” Zucker’s story featured a woman who invites people from the other side of the tracks into her home for coffee while her mother and husband are away. This time around, however, they return early, just as she’s getting to know a former circus performer who’s been typecast in theater and television as a dwarf. “‘They didn’t want me,’ he said. … ‘They just wanted a dwarf, which I’m not.’” Zucker’s story recalled works like Geek Love and The Convalescent with a domestic twist, and the audience clung to her every word.

Karen Russell was slated to read next, but it seemed a tree fell in front of her train as she was making her way up from Philadelphia. So in lieu of Russell, Tin House co-founding editor Elissa Schappell went up to read for her. Schappell then looked squarely at the audience and confessed that it must feel like we were waiting for Jimi Hendrix but instead got Jiminy Cricket. I doubt anyone’s reaction was that extreme — she did a pretty awesome job with “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach.” Within the first few breaths, I was immediately drawn to the image of a seagull violently swiping my once-3-year-old cousin’s hot dog from her hands on a beach house roof deck, ensuing shrieks and all. Those fuckers can be ruthless.

1. The lovely Samantha Hunt. 2. Amanda Stern, host of The Happy Ending Reading Series, poses for a glamour shot while in audience.

The evening ended with Samantha Hunt reading an excerpt from “Beast.” In this story, a woman contemplates how to tell her husband that she becomes a deer every night, a secret that parallels a guilt-ridden infidelity but is perhaps just a bit easier to confess. While her husband pulls ticks from her body before bed, the protagonist’s narration jumps from singing “Hernando’s Hideaway” to the mock confession in her head; her husband earnestly replies, “What the fuck?”

“Beast” was the perfect way to wrap the evening, and Hunt’s is a voice everyone needs to become familiar with (see: The Invention of Everything Else). It’s a shame that only three of Fantastic Women’s contributors could be featured last night, but Zucker, Russell, and Hunt were an amazing sample of the anthology.

But seriously, go read Angela Carter first. All of it.

***

— John Zuarino is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. He’s well aware that this is true for many in Brooklyn.

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