Anthology Review: Everything Is So Political

Everything Is So Political
A Collection of Short Fiction by Canadian Writers

Edited by Sandra McIntyre  

Everything Is So Political is a new anthology of short stories that take a stand, a side, or have a political point to prove. These stories are overtly political or about something, and the collection comes with a ringing endorsement from a great Canadian short story writer:

“Brimming with wild imagination and stunning variety, this is one of those literary anthologies that comes along once in a generation.” - Lee Henderson

While I’m not sure if the book is that good (like any collection there is a lopsidedness in the strength of its stories), it’s nonetheless a good collection with a great concept, full of new voices, and some names you might know as well. Published authors Michelle Butler Hallet, Chris Benjamin, and Fran Kimmel, for example, provide some of the collection’s highlights. One piece from the collection that truly lingers is the opening story from Andrew F. Sullivan. Sullivan’s “Stray Dogs” packs a bite made sharp through its subtlety. His story demonstrates both muscular and confident craftsmanship in that nothing is spelled out for the reader, yet he paints a clear and harrowing portrait of a violent warden’s demented abuse of power in what appears to be a prisoner of war camp. The evocative mood and show-don’t-tell restraint in this story are impeccable.

Jack of all writing trades Chris Benjamin provides another highlight with “Water Bottle Thief.” It opens with a young lady strapped to a bed, and beyond the sexual connotation, we don’t quite know why she’s strapped to a bed, or who put her there. Benjamin opts to bait a reader and reel them by asking a questions that aren’t immediately answered. The story’s also strong for its lively, engaging narrator. She’s a wayward underdog, and she’s wild enough to act like it’s no big deal to be a kid strapped in a bed with a man’s dick in her face, but she’s classy enough to want to be wearing nice clothes as she slips out of his apartment. As the title indicates, she’s stolen a water jug, for its refund cash. She’s stolen the water jug to afford cellphone minutes to “hash things out” with her mother in Yarmouth, which only introduces a new question: what’s their conflict? It’s the story of a drop-out you root for, and Benjamin knows how to tell, pace, and unpack a story in a way that’s a pleasure to read.

“Elephant Air” is a stellar stand-out story in the lot. It’s an emotionally rich piece from two-time Journey Prize finalist Fran Kimmel. “Elephant Air” tells the story of an elephant trainer and his estranged daughter, whose animal activism has wedged a spike into their relationship. In fact, it’s cost Ivan the life he loved. The story excels for showing both sides of a politcal issue - we see Ivan, the trainer who loves his elephants like pets, and we see “Ivan the Terrible,” the man from a viral YouTube video on animal cruelty, whom activists are on a witch hunt for. As the story unfolds, Ivan reflects on how things have changed from the days when the world loved a circus, to the modern day crowds, that are half-filled with protesters, and not even moral, righteous ones. No sides are chosen in the story, and that’s its strength. That and the emotionally rich manner in which Fran delivers the story. Both sides - the father’s and the daughter’s - are well presented. Kimmel’s writing is resonant, and eloquently drawn. As for the story itself, when was the last time you felt for an elephant trainer? Part of the charm in the story is feeling like you’ve never read a story quite like it before. But it takes a writer as compassionate and confident as Kimmel to make you care for a man like Ivan.

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