Nothing Small About Gay Dwarves Stories

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September 7, 2012

Gay Dwarves of America
By Anne Fleming
Pedlar Press
205 pp; $21

Reviewed by Arleen Paré

In the world of literary genres, the short story could be entering endangered-species status. Not because fewer people write short stories; quite the contrary, many writers enjoy the short story form, and literary journals still publish them. But because few collections of short stories appear on bookstore shelves — Alice Munro notwithstanding. This means that when a short story collection appears, it must be outstanding. Anne Fleming’s Gay Dwarves of America, with its audacious title, is such a book.

Anne Fleming is a B.C. writer with one earlier collection of short stories, Pool Hopping, and a novel called Anomaly. She is a humourist who, pleasingly, can’t help but highlight life’s ironies. She also displays a flair for the poignant. Her writing is smart, smart-assed, funny, and cool. You feel cool reading these nine stories. That doesn’t mean you won’t also feel deep sadness. Fleming’s writing is self-reflexive too. But mainly, Fleming creates unforgettable characters. She writes character the way some poets write extended metaphor. In Gay Dwarves of America, each story is a character, each crazily different. In an unthemed and unlinked collection, this is key: keeping each story distinct keeps the collection as a whole alive, compelling.
Gay Dwarves, unlike most contemporary collections, takes risks from the start. It begins with one of the least risky, “Unicycle Boys.” Curtis is the unicycle boy; Jenny is the narrator. Jenny is the story. She’s the perfect snooty high school girl. She’s cool, ironic and smart-mouthed. The dialogue, “I ran into (Curtis) at Caravan. He’s kind of a neat guy. In a loserish sort of way,” is perfect high school superior. Curtis of the unicylcle is how Jenny learns what the story conveys. It’s a good lesson.

The second story, the eponymous “Gay Dwarves of America” is considerably more quirky. As a short, gay woman, I read it with trepidation, alert to stereotypes and slurs. The story is about John and his college roommate, Pen. Neither is gay nor a dwarf. They exploit the idea to set up a website. But it’s an idea to keep out the sadness. In the end, both are sad.

The stories continue in this quirky manner. If the character isn’t quirky, and most are, then the situation is strange, or the point of view is unusual, or the subject matter is peculiar. Or the format is challenging. Take, for instance, “Puke Diaries,” about throwing up from six different points of view, including that of a cat. It begins with the cat. Each character has unique vocabulary for it, his or her own reasons for puking. The story grows into wholeness, comes together.
By the time we arrive at the final story, “Thirty-One One Word Stories,” which actually is one word centred on each of the final thirty-one pages, we are able to create our own story from each of the words. This is the tacit instruction. The words are inspiring: Thief, Martyr . . . Martha . . . . I began thinking about Martha. As the last story, it works, as each story does in its own exquisite way.

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Arleen Paré is a Victoria writer and poet. Her first book, Paper Trail (NeWest Press, 2007), won the Victoria Butler Book Prize and was short-listed for the Dorothy Livesay Prize for Poetry. Her most recent book, Leaving Now (Caitlin Press, 2012) was released this spring. She completed her MFA at UVic in June.

CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian September 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I’m so excited to read this collection. I discovered Fleming’s other book of short stories earlier this summer and was shocked that I hadn’t read anything by her before. I was totally blown away by Pool-Hopping, and reminded of how much I love reading short stories. It sounds like this collection is exactly the same kind of reminder!

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