Despite the title, I had high hopes for Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense.
The point of the anthology is to feature women who wrote suspense about women, with a focus on authors who were well-known between the 1940s and 1970s, but have currently faded from the public imagination. This is a good goal and I laud it, so well done, Sarah Weinman!
Unfortunately, I was not as excited by Sarah Weinman's introductions -- they're all either really unnecessarily spoilery, really unnecessarily dramatic, or just flat-out misguided -- while not shedding enough of a light on the authors behind them to make me feel like it was worth getting spoiled for. So that was frustrating! The stories themselves are also kind of a mixed bag. On the other hand, there are definitely a few gems, and some authors I will certainly be bookmarking for further investigation.
OK, so by story, we have:
1. "The Heroine," Patricia Highsmith
Sarah Weinman makes a big deal about how writing about women instead of gentlemanly sociopaths is THE ROAD NOT TAKEN for Patricia Highsmith, which is probably true, but this predictable entry into the 'whoops, the governess might kill us all!' genre is not an example of much of a loss.
2. "A Nice Place to Stay," Nedra Tyre
A woman who's never had a home finds jail isn't so bad? This is one of those where the twist felt much more SHOCKING!!! than believable.
3. "Louisa, Please Come Home," Shirley Jackson
I mean, Shirley Jackson can hella write. So this story from the POV of a clever runaway teenager is probably not the best Shirley Jackson ever, but that doesn't make it not a fun story.
4. "Lavender Lady," Barbara Callahan
I found this one maybe funnier than I was supposed to because it is basically just songfic?? I am sorry, I am incapable of taking any story that has mediocre lyrics sprinkled at regular intervals through the text to ILLUMINATE THE CHARACTER'S TRAGEDY very ... seriously ....
5. "Sugar and Spice," Vera Caspary
Although the premise of this was frustrating in the way stories about women motivated by jealous of each other often frustrating -- plain-but-rich cousin and poor-but-beautiful cousin hate each other and are constantly competing, usually over men, until one of them MURDERS a guy!!! BUT WHICH? -- it was actually one of my favorites in the collection anyway, because Nancy the plain-but-rich cousin is incredibly charismatic and interesting
(she has no artistic talent, but she's brilliant at critique! she's a patron of the arts! she cheerfully calls herself a vipress!) The format is also kind of great, in that it's a double frame story; the narrator is Mike Jordan, who is not really involved in the murder at all but has been sort of alternately hanging out with different cousins for most of his life and therefore observed all the drama, but he's
telling the story to the actual narrator, who is a completely random woman who is totally uninvolved and just has a phone that Mike wants to borrow! And then at the end, once he's finished telling her this whole long dramatic story, she's like, "OK, yes, murder whatever, what I'm taking away here is that NANCY IS GREAT, MARRY HER IMMEDIATELY." I am with you, random narrator woman. You and I, we understand each other. Anyway, I will definitely be looking for more of Vera Caspary's work.
6. "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," Helen Nielsen
Any story that starts out with a woman asking her husband not to put her on a pedestal because it's NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE is probably a story that I'm going to like, and this is not an exception. Basically a critique of the virgin/whore dichotomy disguised as a murder story. Another author I will be looking up!
7. "Everybody Needs a Mink," Dorothy B. Hughes
I'm not sure ... how this is a suspense story ...? Like, a lower-middle-class housewife goes to a store and a nice old man mysteriously buys her a mink, and her family are all "that's weird!" and then that's it, the story is basically over. OK! That's nice!
8. "The Purple Shroud," Joyce Harrington
This one is set among ARTSY HIPPIES and feels ... very seventies. A douchebag husband gets murdered and it's fine.
9. "The Stranger in the Car," Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Elisabeth Sanxay Holding came through for me again; I thought this was one of the best stories in the collection. A nice middle-class man attempts to cope with his teenage daughter's potential date-rape-and-blackmail situation, which soon escalates into a potential murder situation, and fails utterly. In the end his wife comes home and is like "oh, honey, you should have just told me straightaway and let me take care of it instead of worrying your sweet little head about it!"
10. "The Splintered Monday," Charlotte Armstrong
This one was fun! A cranky old lady feels like she's being tiptoed around by her hypochondriac sister's family after said sister's death, and, in the process of insisting that she is a GROWN ADULT and does NOT NEED TO BE CODDLED, good lord, people, accidentally reveals that one of them is a murderer, OOPS.
11. "Lost Generation," Dorothy Salisbury Davis
This story was very good -- it's about racism and vigilante justice gone wrong in a small town -- but there were almost zero women in it so I'm not a hundred percent sure why it's in this collection of stories by women and about women, specifically.
12. "The People Across the Canyon," Margaret Millar
And this one was actually sci-fi, I think? I'M CONFUSED. A little girl gets obsessed with the new neighbors and her parents get annoyed and then maybe someone gets sucked into a mirror dimension, I don't know.
13. "Mortmain," Miriam Allen Deford
We've already hit 'secretly murderous governess' on the domestic suspense bingo board, so now it's time for 'secretly murderous nurse!' Deford pulls it off pretty well, though, and the ending did genuinely give me the creeps.
14. "A Case of Maximum Need," Celia Fremlin
THIS STORY MAYBE STRETCHES THE BOUNDS OF PLAUSIBILITY A LITTLE. I've been trying not to spoil the suspense stories too much, but ... ( I"m just going to go ahead and spoil this one, because WTF?Collapse )This entry is cross-posted at Livejournal from http://skygiants.dreamwidth.org/404491.html. Please feel free to comment here or there! There are currently comments on Dreamwidth.