Women and Other Animals

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Women and Other Animals features people usually invisible to readers of the literary journals in which these stories first appeared. Living in the cracks and shadows of the late twentieth century, they struggle to make sense of a world where others plan and prosper. Boyfriends or brothers generally bring trouble, but cooking or nature offer solace of a sort.

In “Shotgun Wedding” a young woman, her sister’s scrappy defender when they were growing up, worries about whether the “princess bride’s” new husband can do as well. Gwen, stuck in a riverside shack without electricity or food, finds hope shakily opening up when she befriends “The Fishing Dog.”

Some stories offer grotesque images or obsessions. In “Bringing Home the Bones” Charlotte searches a cemetery for her missing leg. “Gorilla Girl” takes a surrealistic look at a teenager whose ranges actually turn her into a ravening beast.

Other tales mix normality with the weird. “Eating Aunt Victoria” shows a 500-pound woman crashing through a porch and having to be pulled out with a boom, but its narrator Bess escapes squalor by joining the Navy. A biologist, in “Running,” wants to tutor her neighbor’s teenage daughter. The boy-crazy girl hardly hears the offer, and the woman herself decides parenting is far too difficult.

Despite its focus on women’s lives, Women and Other Animals is hardly a feminist book; its characters show far more passivity than empowerment. The stories’ greatest appeal will be to those who follow serious literary fiction. Others who enjoy reading about the epiphanies inspired by birdflight or dog companions will appreciate this prize-winning collection also.