For a long time, I’ve dreamed about writing an anthology of stories told from the perspective of various female figures from classical mythology. I even have a name for this imagined anthology – but of course, I won’t mention it here (not yet, at least).
Tricia Dower has done me one better by actually sticking to the plan and publishing Silent Girl, a collection of stories reimagining the lives of female characters from several Shakespearean plays.
Some of her inspirations come from the more popular plays in Shakespeare’s canon – like Gertrude from Hamlet and Miranda from The Tempest – while others are from the lesser-known ones – like Volumnia from Coriolanus and Marina from Pericles of Tyre. No matter the source, all of the protagonists are multilayered and thoroughly drawn.
More importantly, Dower’s stories don’t shy away from the harsh realities of women’s lives across time and space. In “Kesh Kumay,” a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, a Kyrgyz woman attempts to foil her family’s plans for an arranged marriage in the hope that she can finish her university degree. In “Nobody; I Myself,” a woman tries to save her interracial marriage to a Vietnam vet who is entertaining thoughts of joining the Black Panther movement, and positions herself as the ultimate victim to save him from his revolutionary tendencies. Then there’s the title story, where a young survivor of the 2004 tsunami gets sold into the sex trade and ends up in Katrina-era Louisiana.
By and large, these aren’t happy stories, although glimmers of humour and hope exist. Like most story collections, there are strong points and weak points, with my personal favourites being “Kesh Kumay” and “Cocktails with Charles” – in this case, I’m a sucker for happy endings. Unfortunately, I found the weakest stories in the collection to be the opener (“Not Meant to Know,” a reimagining of The Tempest from an outsider’s point of view) and the closer (“The Snow People: 30-46 AGM,” a sci-fi dystopian story about racial oppression and climate change).
In particular, “Not Meant to Know” felt like it was far too short, and showed only the tip of the iceberg. Part of me wonders if the author felt the same way, as she’s recently expanded it and turned into her debut novel, named Stony River. I haven’t read that one yet, but I admit to being intrigued by it, not least because of its wonderful and evocative cover.
One of the unforeseen benefits of reading this book was that it helped forge some unusual connections. One the way home from work one day, the woman sitting across from me on the train asked if Silent Girl was good, and told me that she knew the author! Now I keep my eyes peeled for her in the hopes that I can strike up a conversation about other books. On top of that, this collection’s very existence makes me feel that my own story ideas will have a home in the future. Where that home will be, and what form it will take, I don’t know, but this book felt like a catalyst in many ways.