Book Review: Dangerous Women

52a0fc54463a6.preview-300Dangerous Women is an anthology of stories about, you guessed it, women who are, in one way or another, dangerous.  The anthology is edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and includes a Game of Thrones novella by Martin.  I was thrilled about this book, picturing a bevy of kick-ass women of both the wits and the weapons variety.

Well, I can’t quibble with the quality of the writing in this anthology.  Every story is solidly written.  All the authors have a good use of language and world-building.  One of my favorite things about this book is that it involves a variety of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, noir, and western.

But although the technical level of the writing was very high, I was disappointed by the content.  Most of these stories weren’t particularly empowering.  Many of them were about women who use sex as a weapon.  A surprising number of the stories were narrated by men, and dealt with men’s fears about women wielding sexual power.  Those stories weren’t always bad, but for me when it comes to exploring the idea that women can use sex as a weapon against men, a little goes a long way.  Not all the stories were like that, but more than I had expected.

Although I was little disappointed in the anthology as a whole, there were several stories that I thought were remarkable.  Not only did I like the stories while I was reading them, but they stayed in my mind long afterwards.  Here’s some standouts:

My Heart is Either Broken, by Megan Abbott

This is a haunting, chilling contemporary noir about a couple whose baby is kidnapped – maybe.  This story is clearly influenced by the Casey Anthony case and it manages to infuse the story with compassion and unexpected twists.  I never felt like I knew what was coming up and I did not expect to feel the parade of emotions that I went through.  It’s a tiny gem of a short story that is a master class in how to accomplish a great deal in a short space.

Neighbors, by Megan Lindholm

This is a contemporary with a hint of fantasy/horror about a woman who has reached the age where her children want her to move into a retirement home because they fear for her safety, and she refuses to leave her house.  I wanted this story to be more fair to the woman’s adult children, especially the daughter, who comes across as a one-dimensional jerk.  But it does do a good job of allowing some of the son’s very valid concerns to show through his impatience.

The fantasy elements of the story are far less involving than the day-to-day terrors of the older woman who is running out of options.  The moment when she looks around her house and suddenly realizes that it actually is falling apart is shattering.  The descriptions of suburban mom life that she relates in flashback are spot on – I say this as a suburban mom myself.  If you read one story from this anthology, make it this one.

Lies My Mother Told Me, by Caroline Spector

This is the only story I read that made me crazy to run out and find more stories set in the same world.  Structurally it’s a little weak – it feels more like part of a larger story than as a complete short story.  It’s part of the Wild Cards universe, a literary universe shared by a ton of amazing authors who all write different stories set in the same world.  It’s inventive and funny and scary and touching.  This story involves some outrageously bizarre superhero women and how they work together to protect their families.  I loved these characters so much I wanted to bring them all home to live with me forever.  Except the bad guys, who I loathed with an appropriate (high) level of loathing.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly, by Nancy Kress

A lovely, harrowing, somewhat hopeful tale about the importance of beauty and art in a dystopian world.