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Even Greater Mistakes: Stories


Even Greater Mistakes: Stories

The first story in Charlie Jane Anders’ collection, EVEN GREATER MISTAKES, sets the stage for what is to come. Titled “As Good As New,” it relates the misadventures of a woman named Marisol Guzmán, who survives the apparent end of the world in her boss’s panic room, with only old television shows for company.

An award-winning playwright turned housekeeper, Marisol was able to get to the panic room as the cataclysmic quakes began. Upon finally emerging, after many months, the world is covered in a white fungus that seems to have destroyed all living things. She sees a bit of color in the devastated landscape and finds an intact bottle. Upon uncorking it, she releases a genie: Richard Wolf, a former theater critic who can grant wishes. Thrilled to have a companion and anxious not to waste her wishes, Marisol brings the bottle, and Richard, back to the panic room to think things through.

"[T]here is truly something for everyone here, especially for those willing to approach the book with the wonder and care it deserves."

This story, like many in EVEN GREATER MISTAKES, takes a slantwise and clever look at climate, loneliness and relationships, identity, human foibles, and the vast possibilities that stretch out before us --- the terrifying and the thrilling.

It is hard to peg Anders’ work to a particular genre, and that is a good thing. Speculative fiction probably covers all the bases as there is a lot of science fiction, elements of magical realism, post-apocalyptic settings, and some fairly straightforward fiction. These stories are frequently funny and just as often violent, thoughtful and totally weird. Sometimes Anders’ characters happen to be queer, and other times queerness is the point. Gender is delightfully (and honestly) fluid, and romance and attraction are expressed in a lovely variety of ways. Readers are plopped down in strange but relatable worlds from the looming near future to settings scattered across the galaxy. Each story comes with fresh surprises but with her signature wit intact, and always with at least a hint of provocation.

The club at the center of “The Time Travel Club” provides recovering addict Lydia with a more interesting meeting than the 12-step ones she had been attending. The small group gathered and play-acted that time travel was real --- until they learned it really was. “Love Might Be Too Strong a Word” explores gender and identity in a surreal sci-fi style. “Rock Manning Goes for Broke” is a lengthier story --- a violent, sad novella with pratfalls, social media culture, the breakdown of social order, and a protagonist just trying to get things right.

“Six Months, Three Days” is one of the best stories in the book. In it, a man who can see the future and a woman who can see many possible futures enter into a passionate but ultimately doomed relationship, having to constantly navigate their feelings in the face of the inevitable end they know is ahead. “Because Change Was The Ocean and We Lived By Her Mercy” and “My Breath is a Rudder” are both at once scathing examinations of climate change and beautiful tributes to the city of San Francisco and human --- and nature’s --- resilience.

A treat for readers is Anders’ introduction, which gives us insight into her writing process and the inspiration for her ideas. Brief introductions to each story provide a bit of writerly context and a little guide to the subtext as well. As with any collection, some stories work better than others. But Anders is capable of writing different styles and in different tones from story to story, and her themes are so universal, even when rendered in highly specific detail. So there is truly something for everyone here, especially for those willing to approach the book with the wonder and care it deserves.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 19, 2021

Even Greater Mistakes: Stories
by Charlie Jane Anders