What I Read in July 2016 Part V . . .
This book of short stories is about women who were briefly famous or infamous and some who were related to famous people. Most of the stories are told by people associated with the almost famous women but some are told by the women themselves. There is a lot of misery in these stories, along with drug abuse and sex.
The first story "The Pretty, Grown-Together Children" is utterly heartbreaking. Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins, were abused and subjected to becoming sideshow "freaks" before old age, poverty and lost dreams catch up to them. It's completely horrid how they were treated because they were conjoined. The story says they were joined at the hip and buttocks, sharing blood flow but no major organs. I would think if they were children today, they could be separated, which makes the story even more sad. "The Lottery, Redux" is a sort of dystopian take on Shirley Jackson's famous story. I actually liked the idea of people being exiled for crimes against the environment but found it perplexing and really upsetting that the exile extended to the descendants of original exiles. The person chosen for exile is obvious from the start. I admired how they handled their problem but was sad their happiness was short lived.
"The Siege at Whale Cay" is told from the point-of-view of a lonely, lost woman living with heiress Joe Carstairs, cigar-smoking, cross-dressing, motorboat-racing lesbian, who had tumultuous affairs with leading actresses, including Marlene Dietrich. The story didn't make a lot of sense. The reader is bombarded by images of wild partying, crazy behavior and finally post-traumatic stress. This was my least favorite story. It was too complicated and there was too much going on.
I really liked and was intrigued by the story of Butterfly McQueen. I could have done without the gory medical student dissection descriptions. I also liked the story of the main character and how they came to be where they are.
The only almost famous "woman" I had heard of was Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Claremont (stepsister to Mary Shelley). The author nailed toddler tantrums but the story was heartbreaking. Like the narrator, I too felt for the unwanted child.
Beryl Markham sounded fascinating but her story is too short and abstract to really get a sense of who she was.
The shortest story in the collection "The Internees" is a 1 1/2 page exploration of what it means to be feminine. I can't even begin to imagine how these women felt after years of dehumanizing treatment in concentration camps during World War II. It's amazing to think that something so insignificant as lipstick would take on such significance in certain circumstances.
Hell-Diving Women explores issues that were problems in the 1950s and problems today: racism, homophobia and sexism. This story was a little too abstract for my tastes but I was curious about the band enough to look them up online.
This volume of stories was just too modern and strange for my tastes but I applaud the author for highlighting these "almost famous" women.