Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Sometimes the world seems a little restrictive, a little too subject to convention and physics. This is when reading speculative fiction is the best; like drinking lemonade on a really hot day. It's refreshing and it makes you feel different, all at the same time. Alissa Nutting's short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is the antidote to a long day at work following rules and keeping your imagination in check.

These stories are fantastical and hilarious. In one a woman finds herself in hell, riding in a pouch in the devil's body, trying desperately not to pee. Wouldn't that be the worst faux pas ever? Ms. Nutting's similes are also very funny and she has so many of them. I don't know how she does it. They're sprinkled all through her stories like the best kind of seasoning.

As you might guess from the title of the book, which could either be a directory or a warning, the characters in the various stories are on the edge. One is stewing gently in a broth with a bunch of men while she waits to see who will be taken away next. One is a host, or maybe a prize, on an adult reality show. Many of them are having pretty serious relationship problems, or are lonely, or are about to disrupt what looks like a problem free relationship. The anything goes surreal quality of the plots make the part of my mind that is always trying to guess what happens next shut up and wait to be entertained, which is extremely refreshing.

Some of the stories, like Cat Owner, are super creepy. That's about a woman who says she is bad at dating, or at least bad at waiting for people to fall in love with her. Her fat, disabled cat doesn't help matters. Or is it that she's putting her potential boyfriends off and blaming it on the cat? I reckon it's up to us to decide. Luckily she gives us plenty of clues.

There were a couple of stories I didn't care for. While She-man is well written and has a charming narrator, I was dismayed by references to the transgender narrator as really a man and not a real woman. Although we might expect this sort of confusion from certain parts of society, I don’t understand it coming from the heroine of the story, especially because we hear the story from her point of view. She knows she's really a woman, which is why she goes through the trouble, expense and danger of making her physical body match her gender. And speaking of danger; I know that there is a great deal of violence against transgender people but I'm extremely tired of it in entertainment. Have you noticed that trans characters in mysteries are invariably twisted murderers? And if the project is a drama any transgendered characters will be either beaten or murdered. Can't we have some happy endings? Is that too much to ask?

My two favorite stories are Model's Assistant and Bandleader's Girlfriend. Model's Assistant is about a woman who inadvertently becomes an accessory to a model named Garla. The narrator's constructs her own reality about this relationship, which is easy to do as Garla doesn't speak in sentences that make much sense or have much to do with what's actually going on. Bandleader's Girlfriend is extremely funny and is from the perspective of a woman who is dating, or maybe married, to a rock star. She is living a life that appalls her straight-laced sister, who pesters her all the time. Tensions escalate when the sister breaks some bad news and insists on coming for a visit. Bandleader's Girlfriend is irreverent, touching and unexpected.

In other news I've been watching commercials for the New Girl, a comedy coming this fall, trying to figure out why it seemed so familiar. I finally realized it's because the female lead is a low rent Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. She's fake awkward and rambling and she physically resembles Liz. Her new male roommates plan to stomp her into shape and make her into something a stereotypical guy is supposed to want. One of the new roommates actually says something along the lines of I can fix that when she does something they view as not attractive. This is annoying and insulting to both men and women. Apparently men can only like or accept women who have very narrow personality traits and mannerisms and women are objects that need to be controlled and molded into automatons. Ugh.

(There is hope at the very end of this extended trailer as the three ultra-controlling model obsessed roommates do make an effort to make Zooey Deschanel's character stop crying and step out of their ridiculous socially conscribed roles for a minute.)

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is from Christopher Reineman who did a cute comic about ghosts and family dynamics. Maybe it's also a coming of age story? http://feelafraidcomic.com/?p=406