You know you’re in for a wild ride with the shockingly inventive collection Shit Cassandra Saw when one of the first stories is a piercing tale of women in New York acquiring supernatural powers that allow them to move through the city without fear of sexual assault. This is followed by a story that’s a one-star Yelp review written by Gary F., ostensibly about a Maryland restaurant called Jerry’s Crab Shack, but really about the man’s deeply dysfunctional relationship with his wife.
Other standout entries include a poignant look at a high school softball team that is reeling from a recent school shooting, and the tale of a woman who is having an affair and being judged by the priggish Colonial ghost who lives in her neighborhood.
So it goes, in dazzling story after story in this debut book from Gwen E. Kirby, a creative writing instructor and associate director at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South. Through humor, ferocity and sometimes a healthy dash of surrealism, Kirby meditates on the fears, joys and pains of being a woman throughout the centuries. Every story feels unique, yet they’re tied together by Kirby’s mind-bendingly confident writing and her clear fascination with strong yet vulnerable women.
And boy, does she know how to create a sense of place so strong you can feel and smell it. In “We Handle It,” for example, we meet teenage girls who are “at a summer music camp, our fingertips sore from strings, our backs sticky with sweat, and when we reach the lake we shed our summer dresses and leap from a boulder into the water, which is deep and clean. Around the lake are tall pines and the heavy hum of Southern bug life.”
Shit Cassandra Saw is pure pleasure with something for everyone, especially readers interested in thinking deeply about womanhood from every possible angle. Kirby’s characters are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.