“A woman walks down the street and a man tells her to smile. When she smiles, she reveals a mouthful of fangs. She bites off the man’s hand, cracks the bones and spits them out, and accidentally swallows his wedding ring, which gives her indigestion,” (Kirby, “A Few Normal Things That Happen A Lot, 7).
Gwen E. Kirby’s short story collection Shit Cassandra Saw is a treasure trove of unique stories. From historical figures to cockroach women, one-star reviews and “how to” articles, to tropes of women who are tired of appearing in fiction Kirby’s anthology says it all. Shit Cassandra Saw is a collection of feminist stories that are sharp, funny, and aching, filled with women who are tired of hurting, tired of being victims, and who are ready to fight back and be the protagonist.
Read my thoughts on all of the stories in the collection below:
Shit That Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell The Trojans Because At That Point Fuck Them Anyway – 5 stars
I’ve rarely seen a short story collection begin with it’s titular story, but what a strong start! Cassandra’s a fantastic, tragic character in Greek mythology and Kirby gives her such a tribute. Both tragic and hopeful, Kirby gives Cassandra the respect she deserves while also playing with her doomed gift of prophecy. What an excellent way to start this collection!
A Few Normal Things That Happen A Lot – 5 stars
Radioactive cockroaches run rampant and women are changing after being bitten by them. Some have big teeth, some have antennaes, the main thing is, these women are no longer afraid of being cat-called. I loved the themes of this story, it has some of the same vibes as The Power but I think Kirby did it much better in less pages.
Jerry’s Crab Shack: One Star – 5 stars
Unlike the title, this was a five star read. Formatted like a lengthy yelp review this story gave such great detail to character throughout in a sort of monologue. An absolutely brilliant way to know so much about a character, their marriage, and family life in a one star review.
Boudicca, Mighty Queen Of the Britains, Contact Hitter and Utility Outfielder, AD 61 – 3 stars
Short and fairly to the point. A great voice and I’ve been a fan of Boudicca in general but not as powerful as the others in the collection
MT. Adams at Mar Vista – 4 stars
A girl’s softball team prepares to play against a school that has just experienced a shooting. An interesting look at teenagers, tragedy, grief, and how hard it is to understand it all when you are young. I liked the collective voice this story had as well as the peak reader’s get into the minds of some of the MT. Adams players and how they’re reacting to the tragedy at the rival school.
Friday Night – 3.5 stars
Friday nights are for pizza, marital troubles, and trying to get knocked up. This story was a short, stream of consciousness that was humourous and surprisingly sad at the end. This would make a funny monologue to read!
Here Preached His Last – 4 stars
One of the longer stories in the collection but a good one. A woman is having an affair with a colleague while her husband is away and struggles with figuring out what she wants, raising her young daughter and doing all the mom stuff of sewing costumes and watching kid theatre while being haunted by the ghost of a preacher. I really liked the depth of this story, the sadness and frustration of the protagonist was easily felt and I loved the complications of it.
First Woman Hanged For Witchcraft In Wales 1594 – 4 stars
A witch waits to be hanged and recounts her life leading up to this moment. Part fairy-tale part-tragedy, part-hope, part-love makes for an aching story, and I’m always down for anything with witches.
Caspar – 4 stars
Three girls form an attachment to a taxidermy dog they find at the Unclaimed Baggage Depot where they work. When he is stolen, they will do anything to get him back. A good look at relationships, outsiders, and a coming-of-age story for all three girls with some great subtle characterization.
An Apology of Sorts to June – 3.5 stars
A man apologizes to his daughter. Would have rated higher but
(SPOILER: cat death SPOILER) is a big thing for me so…yeah, I couldn’t rate it higher. Good though, killer last line. Would make for another good monologue.
Mary Read is a Crossdressing Pirate, the Raging Seas, 1720 – 3 stars
I’ve always been a Mary Read fan and this was a short, sweet story about her. It would have been nice if this had been stretched out a bit more, but that last paragraph was killer!
The Disneyland of Mexico – 2 stars
A young girl goes to live in Mexico for the summer with a host family. Or you do, I guess, since this story is written in second person. I’m not big on second person narration, some good moments in here but probably my least favourite story in the collection.
For a Good Time, Call – 2.5 stars
Some woman named Gail is giving Megan’s number to the guys she meets at bars, and after being broken up with Megan decides to be Gail for one of her caller’s. This was a dud to, but straight to the point. I just didn’t vibe with it.
Nakano Takeko Is Fatally Shot, Japan, 1868 – 4 stars
Similar to the Boudica and Mary Read story except I’ve never heard of Nakano Takeko and will now have to search her because she sounds cool. Poetically written, nice to read, a good one after some flops.
Inishmore – 5 stars
Two sisters travel to Ireland, anxiety and fear ensue. Man I felt this one, the sisterhood, the care, the fear of not knowing your self, the fear of letting someone go to live their life and being left alone. One of my favourites!
Marcy Breaks Up with Herself – 5 stars
Marcy decides to take advice from one of her favourite Canadian TV shows in the hopes that she will change her life. This story was so aching, so beautiful, and bittersweet. Would read it again, but I feel like it could have had a better title.
The Best and Only Whore of Cwm Hyfryd, Patagonia, 1886 – 4 stars
The title says it all, we get a look into the life of this woman who makes a name and life for herself in the Andes. I liked how this story gave a look of independence from a character who, in many other novels set in the late 1800s, would have focused on women’s dependence of men and made her a more tragic, heathenistic character.
Midwestern Girl Is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories – 3.5 stars
Different vignettes of Midwestern Girl helping men in different stories. A good commentary on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and women’s roles and characterizations in men’s writing.
Scene in a Public Park at Dawn, 1892 – 3 stars
A doctor goes to supervise and then tend to two dueling women. I assume this is based on the clipping from the Pall Mall Gazette that starts the story, but maybe that’s part of the fiction too. Gets to the point, nothing flashy but still good.
How to Retile Your Bathroom in 6 Easy Steps! – 3.5 stars
Also written in second person, but since it’s written like a “how to” article I’ll forgive it. I like that this gave so much characterization in such a unique way like the review story.
We Handle It – 4 stars
A group of girls at music camp come in contact with a creepy guy. I liked the atmosphere and collective “we” of this story as well as the fear the girl’s felt and they came about not being afraid at the ending. Almost like a modern fairy-tale or campfire story.
Publication: January 11 2022
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 288 pages (Paperback)
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Anthology, Feminism
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤.5
Cassandra may have seen the future, but it doesn’t mean she’s resigned to telling the Trojans everything she knows. In this ebullient collection, virgins escape from being sacrificed, witches refuse to be burned, whores aren’t ashamed, and every woman gets a chance to be a radioactive cockroach warrior who snaps back at catcallers. Gwen E. Kirby experiments with found structures–a Yelp review, a WikiHow article–which her fierce, irreverent narrators push against, showing how creativity within an enclosed space undermines and deconstructs the constraints themselves. When these women tell the stories of their triumphs as well as their pain, they emerge as funny, angry, loud, horny, lonely, strong protagonists who refuse be secondary characters a moment longer. From “The Best and Only Whore of Cym Hyfryd, 1886” to the “Midwestern Girl [who] is Tired of Appearing in Your Short Stories,” Kirby is playing and laughing with the women who have come before her and they are telling her, we have always been this way. You just had to know where to look.