How did it take me so long to hear about OUTwrites, a bi-monthly queer writing collective based out of Toronto? Even more exciting is the fact that this group has a published version of some of their respective members’ works that came out last summer. When they emailed me to ask if I’d like a copy of Zhush Redux: An OUTwrites Anthology for review, I was totally jazzed. There’s a lot of variety in this anthology, which is very exciting. It’s cool especially to see queer writers expanding into so-called genre fiction like horror and mystery / thrillers, even if neither of those is particularly appealing to me (I’m a wimp, I admit).
Any anthology bringing together a diverse group of writers is, in my experience, usually a hit-or-miss kind of thing. So I wasn’t really surprised that there were some pieces in Zhush that I loved and some that didn’t really do anything for me. Let’s talk about what struck a chord.
Okay, I know I just said that I was too wimpy to read horror, but I actually did read an excerpt from a play by Don Bapst, aptly titled “The Horror,” which is featured in Zhush. Damn was that a clever, terrifying piece of drama. I unfortunately read it before bed (what a novice mistake) and I’m not ashamed to say that I ran from the light switch by my bedroom door and jumped into bed hoping that there wasn’t something hiding underneath. I think that probably says it all about the impact of that piece.
Another stand-out contribution is Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins’s story “Homology,” which features a cis man and woman who are co-workers, and friends, and then maybe something more, experimenting with cross-dressing and dominance and submission. It’s a thought-provoking look at how BDSM brings out “different aspects of yourself, [and makes you] see the things you didn’t know were there,” which can be quite frightening, even though “we all have it inside us.”
The two best pieces were, without a doubt, Dorianne Emmerton’s short story “A Day by the Lake” and Marcy Rogers’s microfiction “Drawn Out.” “A Day by the Lake” is my absolute favourite kind of fiction, that which addresses the strange and grotesque within the ordinary. I’d be awfully surprised indeed to find out that Emmerton is not an Alice Munro fan, because this story is very much in the spirit of one of Munro’s early stories, “The Found Boat” (from Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You). (By the way, Anne Fleming is another writer who loves to isolate the wonderful weirdness in the everyday).
Also like much of Munro’s fiction, “A Day by the Lake” takes rural Ontario as its setting, and its focus is on a girl perched between childhood and adulthood. The righteous anger this young woman feels (about what I won’t tell you now) is all too common but her vengeance is nothing short of extraordinary.
All of Marcy Rogers’s short short stories were wonderfully imaginative and strange and dark, but “Drawn Out” is definitely the highlight. It begins with this line: “I know it sounds crazy, but my lover Miranda has a tattoo that talks to me.” The tattoo looks like the burlesque star named Tempest Storm, so the protagonist goes ahead and names her new lover Tempest. She begins to wish, in fact, that “Miranda was a tattoo on Tempest’s body instead of the other way around.” How will these two star-crossed lovers manage to be together? You’ll have to get yourself a copy of Zhush to find out.