Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House by Rob Spillman, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House

Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House

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by Rob Spillman

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Featuring work by some of the most exciting contemporary women writers in the United States, Fantastic Women comprises eighteen inventive, insightful narratives steeped in a heady potion of surrealism and macabre black comedy.
Meet the daughters of Franz Kafka, Mary Shelley, the Brothers Grimm, and Angela Carter. Fantastic Women assembles the work of eighteen


Featuring work by some of the most exciting contemporary women writers in the United States, Fantastic Women comprises eighteen inventive, insightful narratives steeped in a heady potion of surrealism and macabre black comedy.
Meet the daughters of Franz Kafka, Mary Shelley, the Brothers Grimm, and Angela Carter. Fantastic Women assembles the work of eighteen inventive, insightful women authors who steep their narratives in a heady potion of surrealism and macabre black comedy. The results are wildly creative stories that capture the truth about human nature far more than much of the fiction (or, for that matter, the nonfiction) being written today. Why just women? More and more women writers are creating work that not only pushes the envelope but also folds realistic fiction into an origami dragon, transporting readers into worlds we’ve never seen before and digging deeper into the psychic bedrock than their male counterparts. So slip into a pocket universe, drive through a family’s home, awake in the night to find you’ve become a deer, and dive into the ocean to join your mermaid mother. We can’t imagine ever wanting to escape this spellbinding world, but if you must, best leave a trail of crumbs along your way.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The term "fantastic" describes stories in which things that couldn't or wouldn't occur in the normal world, do. While the stories in this collection, all originally published in the literary journal Tin House, meet that criterion, many of them feel more twee than fantastic or simply weird for weird's sake. Here, the often unnamed female protagonists experience unexplained, unexplainable events that leave them uncomfortable but oddly less miserable than you'd expect. The circumstances vary-turning into a deer is not the same as being strung up in complicated ways by nameless barbecuing perpetrators is not the same as finding yourself in a very large stewpot-yet the stories end up feeling curiously similar. It's not bad writing; it's strategic, an apparent desire to tap into fable, where characters are archetypes, anything can happen, and nothing is questioned, but with the exception of Lydia Millet's "Snow White, Rose Red," it feels flat. In contrast, the stories that work, Karen Russell's "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach," Julia Elliott's "The Wilds," Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie," and Stacey Richter's "The Doll Awakens" create compellingly weird and weirdly compelling narratives by forcing believable, specific characters to grapple with the unexplainable.
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From the Publisher

“Stories—subtly disturbing, ruthlessly brilliant—by eighteen top-of-the-trend writers.”—Ursula K. Le Guin

“Compellingly weird and weirdly compelling narratives.”
Publishers Weekly

“Reinventing surrealism and pushing fiction’s boundaries . . .”
Ms. Magazine

"Fantastic Women is a book you want to keep close to you at all times. Reading it made me feel I was inside the imaginations of 18 wildly talented writers. What fantastic company they make."—Vendela Vida, author of The Lovers and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

"Fantastic Women puts on a clinic of what’s possible in the short story today. And 'fantastic' is an understatement. The best anthology I’ve read in years."—Ben Marcus

"That the future is female is nowhere more thrillingly beholdable than in the dominion of literary fiction, where women writers' rejection of rote realism and received forms has cleared the way for visionary misadventure, soulful weirdness, and verbal outlandishments of the highest order. The page-by-page grit and shimmer of these stories, the unlidded imagination and teeming wisdom of these bold and unpredictable writers, reanimate our language and our literature. Here at last is an anthology that's all guts and all gusto, motioning forcibly toward the new world that all of us--women and men alike--had better know now or never."—Gary Lutz, author of Stories in the Worst Way and I Looked Alive

Library Journal
In this engaging anthology compiled by Tin House editor Spillman, with an introduction by novelist Joy Williams (The Quick and the Dead), standout stories by such literary stars as Aimee Bender, Judy Budnitz, Lydia Davis, Miranda July, Karen Russell, and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum rub shoulders with impressive work by lesser-known writers, such as Julia Slavin's funny/sad, satirical tour de force "Drive-Through House" and Samantha Hunt's "Beast," in which a young wife in an adulterous relationship is transformed by night into a deer. Some stories, such as Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie," offer elegant variations on old folk themes, while still others, such as Lucy Corbin's "The Entire Predicament" and Gina Zucker's "Big People," tease the boundaries between domestic felicity and the theater of the absurd. VERDICT These stories will delight a range of readers—even those who have declared themselves allergic to the genres of fantasy, sf, and magic realism—and will challenge devotees of domestic realism to take a walk on the wild side. Readers who enjoy the boundary-straddling work of Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, and Flannery O'Connor, among many others, will find this especially appealing.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA

Product Details

Tin House Books
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5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt


18 tales of the surreal and the sublime from Tin house


Copyright © 2011 Tin House Books
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-935639-10-7

Chapter One


The Dickmare

It all boils down to this: does she present to the Dickmare or not? She fears the lot of them, those perpetually inflated Dickmares, their uncanny magnetism matched only by their startling lack of symmetry. Yet she has been summoned. A thing as unprecedented as it is provoking.

And she has awakened with a curious rash. It circles her body like a cummerbund. A rash as florid as those coral gardens so appreciated by lovers of bijouterie. A rash having surged directly—or so she supposes—from her husband's anomalous—or so she hopes—behavior.

Once, she had thought her husband admirable. Admirable his thorny cone, his sweet horny operculum, his prowess as a swimmer, the beauty of his sudden ejections, the ease with which he righted himself when overturned. Not one to retreat into his shell, in those days his high spirits percolated throughout the yellow mud they optimistically called home.

Adolescents intellectually annihilated by lust and hopeful mysticisms would engage her husband for hours on end with thorny topics such as why Noah built the Ark without once questioning the High Clam's outburst of temper. And if the High Clam loves the fishes and the shelled fishes best (after all, they did not suffer during the forty days and nights of rain but, instead, benefited)—why were they snatched in numbers from their naps and served up Top Side boiled in beer and dressed with hot butter? And her husband instructed the small fry with cautionary tales featuring the terrible Kracken who swims on the surface of the waves like a gigantic swan downing mischievous little mollusks at will—the fear of the lie quieting both their wanderlust and their exuberance (and some were so shellacked with fear they slammed shut never to be heard from again).

The old-timers too came to her husband for advice, sleepless in expectation of those fearsome migrations they were impelled to entertain periodically for reasons beyond everyone's grasp. It seemed that everybody was in need of advice all the time anymore, and that her husband's ministry never ceased.

At first she had been proud of his popularity, or rather, had done her best not to hate the constant tide of traffic and bavardage. She would shut her eyes and cling to anything, to debris—a rotting hull, a stump of pier, a branch of filifera. And she would dream unfructuous dreams of the secret arms of rivers that are said to feed the sea—uncertain waters flowing from an unknowable source (because Top Side)—a source she wished to find.

* * *

Her husband's popularity came to a sudden halt right after a doleful interlude with the Cuckfield quintuplets, whom he had surprised in their daily rotations over by Sandy Bottoms. Now no one—not even the Squamosas who wear their digestive tubes in their arms—will give either of them the time of day. Once so admired, her husband has taken his problems to a Dickmare—and there is a scary rhyme the small fry trill about him:

When the moon is out and the bivalves hop— and cannot stop, and cannot stop, and a shadow steals above ... tell me! What is it? What is it? My love!

—a Dickmare who orders up nacreous pills from the oyster shop, pills that resemble toothed hinges and, once swallowed, produce an egg capable of sprouting fins and swimming. These days her husband's conversation is as rare as a clam's liver. He has lost the instinct for cordiality, and his capacity for mobility is sorely compromised. He has developed two pairs of buccal palpi, and even if he had wanted to, she would not want him to kiss her. When in motion he takes no great strides, but instead stretches out his foot so slowly that she—who stands at the ready with a glass of water (these days his thirst is prodigious)—fears the tedium will kill her. But then, having set the right foot down, he withdraws the left so suddenly that, crying out, she drops the tumbler, wetting her apron. When he is mercifully out the door, another unexpectedly vigorous push with his left foot sends him headlong into his vehicle.

Is it a squid or a calamar?

* * *

When her husband returns he wishes to engage her. Occupying the recliner, he kneels on his knuckles, inching forward with one hand on each end of the apparatus. This, she fears, may lead to further disability. She can tell he has taken the other pills, the ones the size of a grain of linseed, which, like those the size of a split pea, and unlike those the size of a small haricot bean, are, at the instant of ingestion, spat out upon the floor. She stands at the ready, her small broom resting at her side.

The fine salmon pink of her husband's cheeks has darkened, and his skin exudes a peculiarly pungent odor reminiscent of dead eels. Provoked by the prescribed medicaments, within the hour she knows he will turn upon himself like a wheel in motion.

Her husband displays his lamellar and vivid portions. He wishes to excite her curiosity as, he tells her, she has excited the Dickmare's, who, having asked to see her photograph and at once been satisfied, extends an invitation to his grotto. The Dickmare suggests that she is distinguished from the schools of others of her kind, by a brilliancy of eye that, added to her moist plumpness, renders her the most appealing analysand he could aspire to. She is a treasure, the single form reflected in a plurality of lesser forms, or rather, she is that plurality reflected in a singular form.

Unclear as to what he has said, still she cannot help but be moved—as creatures such as she, so fraught with disappointments, swarm within his reach, easy prey for lesser contenders, those who do not have access, as the Dickmares do, to the tops of rocks, nor have they access to the medicines. And it is true: she is lovely, vitreous and permeable, her bottom globular. Aroused, she is luminous in the dark. So round, so smooth, so readily ablaze in her posterior part! No one, she muses, has noticed these things for a very long time. And so, after all these months watching her husband pull himself across the floor in fractions—a transaction that is always accompanied by frequent vomitings and the prodigious thirst—she weighs her chances. Risky business!

Or is it a Dick ...

After all, the Dickmares are known to unspool and push their pistons forward with such alacrity a subconical cavity will be stunned into service before it has a chance to ignite. And she fears that rather than excite his compassion, the curious rash now tumbling to her knees like a Samoan's grass skirt will excite his scorn and, what's more, his wrath. Yet it is also true that she has just that morning shed her shell—a thing both temporary and wildly appealing. If she is at her most vulnerable, she is also at her most charming. The rash, she hopes, may well be a function of this transformation, her heightened state. Her beauty—she can see it now—has never been more poignant.

It boils down to this: might the Dickmare provide a pill less bitter than the one she has sucked ever since the Cuckfield fry gave voice to their many peculiar complaints? Might the Dickmare assuage her loneliness and her humiliation? Is she afflicted enough to dare seek out a questionable success with an Upper Mudder known to be sensuous, furious, and cruel? And she so fragile! So amply furnished with tender sockets and delicate rosettes rotundular and soft. Yes, above all she is soft. And so easily impressed!

It is said at Death—and once the flesh has dissolved into the limitless bodies of things so small they cannot be perceived by the naked eye—the soul is swept away by a current called Forgetfulness and carried to an edifice of foam so impalpable no one has ever seen it. She wants to be the one to see it and to inform the others as to its nature.


Excerpted from FANTASTIC WOMEN Copyright © 2011 by Tin House Books. Excerpted by permission of TIN HOUSE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rob Spillman is editor of Tin House magazine and executive editor of Tin House Books. He was previously the monthly book columnist for Details magazine and is a contributor of book reviews and essays to Salon and Bookforum. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Review, British GQ, Connoisseur, Details, Nerve, the New York Times Book Review, Premiere, Rolling Stone, Spin, Sports Illustrated, SPY, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Worth, among other magazines, newspapers, and online magazines. He has also worked for Random House, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker.

Joy Williams is the author of four novels, four previous story collections, and the book of essays Ill Nature.
She’s been nominated for the National Book Award,
The Pulitzer Prize, and the
National Book Critics Circle

Award. Her most recent title is The Visiting Privilege:
New & Collected Stories. She lives in Tucson, Arizona,
and Laramie, Wyoming.

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