“The notion of outsider women has long existed within modern consciousness.”— Irenosen Okojie.
I’ve just finished reading Outsiders, the new short story anthology published (very soon) by 3 of Cups Press, and felt compelled to write down my thoughts about it. In recent years I’ve really got into reading short stories and have enjoyed many collections, but this might be my favourite yet. It’s a cohesive, tenderly curated anthology made up of fifteen short pieces of fiction, bound together by their exploration of what it means to be an outsider. In Alice Slater’s insightful introduction, she maps out what the collection will entail:
“In this anthology, you’re going to meet both Merricats and Holdens. You’re going to meet outsiders who are monstrous; outsiders who are unwelcome; outsiders who are teenagers; outsiders who are lovers; outsiders who are queer; outsiders who are othered because of where they were born, where they grew up, where they emigrated to; you’re going to meet loners, biters, and people who are uncomfortable in their own skin — literally.”— Alice Slater
I really love the idea of the stories as manifestations of otherness, whilst the anthology itself simultaneously draws those outsiders together. The singular strands of fiction are woven together to create a community of words that express what it is to feel othered, a desire for togetherness and, most notably, spectacular literary talent.
Who you can find writing in the collection:
Julia Armfield, Jen Campbell, Sarvat Hasin, Beverley Ho, Emma Hutton, Susan James, Kirsty Logan, Lena Mohamed, Heather Parry, Leone Ross, Stephanie Victoire, Anna Walsh, Eley Williams, Lara Williams and Anna Wood and a foreword by Irenosen Okojie.
It’s hard to review short stories in depth without giving away any spoilers, so I thought I’d give you a little run down of some of my highlights.
The first of the fifteen stories is Wendigo, written by Julia Armfield, author of Salt Slow which I’m ashamed to say I’m yet to read. It’s a beautiful story about monsters, drawing on mythology, folklore and most notably, the age-old tale of Beowulf. Armfield opens with a quote from Meaghan Purvis’ translation of the epic poem, published by Penned in the Margins, and continues to make reference to it throughout the story. Her writing style is tricksy and lyrical and I found myself highlighting sentence after sentence to savour for later:
“He whistled as they walked — a toothsome sound, something new he has learned to do with his mouth — and the noise echoed back to them in the valley-dip that held the town like something offered on a palm. She smelled it before she saw it: hot blood, the way it slugs through sleeping bodies.”— Julia Armfield
Another story that stood out to me was Kirsty Logan’s brilliant Found Girls, an intelligent story about queer love, womanhood and men who can’t take no for an answer. It’s a narrative which seemingly follows various women, but a twist at the end confirms something else was at play throughout the text. I love Logan’s writing style and loved this tender story of working women, from exotic dancers to performance wrestlers. So good!
“It’s about what they see when they look at her. What she represents, what her body says, the story of it. There’s a reason she’s the personal trainer with the most clients. Because she knows this is what it’s about: who tells a better story with their body.”— Kirsty Logan
One of my favourites in the anthology has got to be Skin by Lena Mohamed. It’s weird, a bit nauseating but also very intelligent and thought-provoking. The story follows an alternative world where people can freely shed their skin and care for it outside of their bodies, sparking a spate of skin thefts and swappings. The main character, Mariah, is forced to navigate what it means to wear the skin you were born with, and how it might feel if it were taken away. The writing in this story was particularly standout for me and I’m really eager to read more from Lena in future.
“Settling down to begin her nighttime rituals, she coated the sinews of her hands with gel, ice cold as it slicked up her arms until she glistened all over. Then, pulling the gauze on so it covered her completely, leaving holes for her eyes, she got into bed.”— Lena Mohamed
I’ve realised at this point that my highlights seem to engulf the entire anthology. It’s really so good. I’m simultaneously inspired to write and inspired to read more short stories. There’s something really special and crafty and creative about being able to write a story that doesn’t particularly need to have a beginning – middle – end, allowing for more experimentation and ambiguity.
If I had to name three other memorable highlights, it would be To Peel an Orange by Beverly Ho (incredible), Interval Training by Lara Williams (also incredible), and The Curse by Heather Parry, which probably makes the most interesting and experimental use of form in the collection.
I highly recommend everyone to pick up this anthology. Not only is it published by a small, independent press which could rival work produced by multi-million pound publishers, it is full of incredible writing that should not be missed. Short stories are a great introduction to new writers and I always find myself scribbling names I’ve not heard of before for future reference.
Thanks for reading this review! You can find the anthology at https://www.3ofcups.co.uk/shop/pre-order-outsiders-a-short-story-anthology, published in September 2020!