The third issue of Plenitude certainly starts off on a high note: Vancouver writer and performance artist Amber Dawn’s short story “The Nevelson” is a brilliant, fantastical, cheeky, and funny piece of fiction. Queer and feminist in the oddest and most wonderful ways, “The Nevelson” follows a seven-year-old girl who is forced to spend her time wandering around an art gallery where her artist mother works as a volunteer,
because that is one of the few ways in which poor, untrained female artists come to be affiliated with galleries. Even I know this, and I am seven years old. Mother also has hopes of meeting men, who know what kind of wine to order at dinner, men that tune into jazz radio as they lead her to the bedroom. She claims I’m a drag on her mojo.
This girl is surprised to find out one day that an art installation (by Louise Nevelson) is talking to her. Soon she is spouting off bits of wisdom learnt from the sculpture/sculptor, such as “Women of our time are supposed to look pretty and throw little handkerchiefs around, well, I won’t play that role,” and “Black truly is aristocratic. Everything has become so elegant without the chaos of colour.” I said this was an odd queer story; well, that’s because in a sense the queer element is that the girl falls in love with this “feminine, sassy” voice embodied by the work of art. So much so that she tells her, quoting Carl Jung, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. Both are transformed.” In other words, I love you. I loved this story. You’ll have to read it to see how this queerest of queer love stories ends.
The next pieces of writing, poetry this time, continue the same quirky, irreverent tone. Adrienne Gruber, a poet from Saskatoon, contributes two pairs of poems: “Reasons to Choose the Jellyfish as Your Lover” and “And Reasons Not To”; “Reasons to Choose the Sea Anemone as Your Lover” and “And Reasons Not To.” I’ll leave most of the factors for you to discover when you read the poems, but let me just share the points in favour of the jellyfish:
Soft. Flesh. Discharge along
my thigh. Black-lit. Backlit.
Electricity trails in blooms.
Consistency. Repetition. Pulse.
The other addition to this issue that stayed with me is Casey Plett’s clever and heart-shattering story “How to Stay Friends,” a piece of fiction written in the imperative with a play-by play of a six months after you’ve broken up and come out as trans dinner date with your ex. I was delighted to recognize Plett’s name in Plenitude, not because she and I share a name, although that is a fun coincidence, but because her story in The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard was one of my favourites and it happened to be one of only a few Canadian offerings (Plett lives in Winnipeg). I liked this one in Plenitude even better. “How to Stay Friends” is a simple and understated story, and for that reason, I think, is an incredibly powerful and moving narrative. Plett’s mostly straightforward prose is occasionally dotted with an effective and smart simile, as in this passage which plays with the idea of a swear jar (we totally had one in my house for my Dad when I was a kid):
Let the next few slips go by. Don’t escalate and don’t be a nuisance. It’s like letting a dad drop some F-bombs without shaking the swear jar, like not confronting your drunk roommate when he doesn’t flush a shit. Wait. Swear jar. A pronoun jar! You could rattle it and say, “Quarter!” and flash a winsome goofy smile. People would chuckle and dig in their pockets and say, “Boy he’s a——she, sorry! Haha! She’s a hoot!”
The woman’s careful swallowing of her pain and her desire to retain a connection with her ex even when she’s being insensitive and transphobic and mean are, for lack of better words, just fucking heartbreaking.
She will smile, then frown, and say, “We’ve gotta teach you about lipstick though. It needs to be subtler. I know you’ve said before you don’t want to look like a drag queen, but it really is the look you’re giving off right now.” Nod and say, “You’re right. It’s totally fine. Thank you for telling me and being honest.” Mean it a little, hate yourself a little, die a little. She will look hesitant, and then she will blurt, “You just look a little ridiculous with it.” Nod. Say, “Okay,” and eat the rest of your phad see yew. When she offers you the rest of her curry, say no. When she asks if you’re absolutely sure, say no.
I’m really looking forward to seeing more writing from Casey Plett! Thanks, Plenitude, for showcasing so many amazing writers! You can get your electronic copy of the latest issue here.