by Ivan E Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver BC
© Copyright 2010
Another collection of two dozen plus short stories. This was a quick read, partly because some of the stories are also found in One In Every Crowd. This is not shade; that book is clearly described as including both new and previously published works. It just happens that these were the two of Ivan’s books immediately available at my local library so read just a few days apart.
It’s also true that Ivan’s stories tend to go down as smoothly as your favourite libation. That touch of casual innocence works very much as a kind of disarming charm. Just as Mark Antony came ‘to bury Caesar, not praise him’ so does Ivan just tell a few little stories. Knocking holes in hetero-normative gender roles and expectations? Purely coincidence.
Should you decide to read this volume shortly after One In Every Crowd and don’t want to re-visit Nobody Ever or This Summer, at Gay Camp there are plenty of other great stories to enjoy. As any good writer knows a story often resonates with folks who identify with just some aspect of the person or the situation. The collection is well-balanced, but taking out the stories also found in the newer volume we have many stories that center on Ivan’s life as a proud Butch.
While that may raise specific issues, the pieces ring true for anyone who did not, at some point, fit in; “my body does not come with instructions, and sometimes even I don’t know what to do with it” (Hats Off). While some folks feel comfortable with ‘off the rack’ outfits, how many of us (at any age) see ourselves in a mirror and realize “there were no clothes for me because I didn’t fit the world” (Throwing In The Towel)?
Ivan includes a few pieces that, for lack of a better term, are advice columns. As part of the Uncle Ivan’s Broken Hearts Club Plan for newly-single ladies we are reminded that “the words exercise and exorcise are only a vowel away” so a Work Out can remove excess weight both physical and emotional. There’s a companion piece, The Butch Version, designed to “build the brotherhood of butches.”
The shining star in this collection is the piece BPS – it is enough reason, by itself, to buy, beg or borrow this book. No details here- not so much for being ‘adult material’ as my inability to do the concept justice in a few words. Believe me I’ve tried- this review should’ve been up days ago. Writing out the full title of that piece without explanation would be misleading. Really- get the book. Join the BPS and make the world a better, happier, place.
Far be it for me to try and defend, explain, or excuse Ivan’s use of gender stereotypes. Some folks identity (in whole or part) with society’s traditional views of gender roles and appearance. Some create a blend of aspects from each. Other folks reject the entire concept of a gender binary. My view is that whatever works for you is exactly what you should (must?) embrace. Likewise, I won’t use this space to wander off into the minefield of “identity politics” – a valid approach to harnessing one’s power so long as it does not get used as a staff to beat up anyone who doesn’t exactly mirror your precise world view.
Ivan presents great stories that will charm some, give hope to others, and perhaps remind us that being unique is the source of great power. Can hardly wait for the library to have two more of Ivan’s books for me to pick up.
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