Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book review: Getting Even: Revenge Stories

Laura Wilkinson reviews Getting Even: Revenge Stories, edited by Mitzi Szereto, published in paperback by Serpent’s Tail, £8.99

Getting Even is an anthology of short stories, edited by author and erotic writing workshops pioneer Mitzi Szereto. New writers sit alongside established names like Stella Duffy and Clare Colvin. A mixed bag, there is something here for most women, especially those who have been betrayed by a male lover.

In her entertaining introduction Szereto suggests that the book is not partisan, citing stories about revenge exacted on those who are not men, and pointing out that the collection also contains stories written by men. This is misleading. Of the seventeen stories only two are penned by male authors, and thirteen are tales of women seeking retribution on men.

Perhaps this would not be a problem if the women wreaking their revenge were not, on the whole, such a down-trodden bunch. They may be able to dream up and execute some stomach-churning acts of vengeance, but the reasons why they ended up as the wronged party in the relationships are altogether less empowering. The women come across as bitter man-haters, used and abused by stereotypical, heartless alpha males, though I am sure that this is not what the authors always intended.

However, revenge is a fascinating subject matter to explore, and given its nature it could be that the protagonists, and antagonists, come across so badly precisely because vengeance is such a negative and destructive force. It damages the perpetrator as much as the recipient and this is explored extremely well in Clare Colvin’s artful tale ‘Love and Death in Renaissance Italy’.

Tales of retribution have permeated our culture for centuries, from the Bible through Shakespeare to films like Se7en, and they are at their most powerful when mythical or legendary – when quotidian forces like law and order fade into the distance. Umi Sinha’s ‘Parvati’ works extremely well because of its mythical quality and because it is so beautifully written.

Dark humour flickers throughout – ‘How to Kill an Aries’ by Tony Fennelly and hagsharlotsheroines founder Becky Bradford’s ‘More Than Skin Deep’ are especially good at this - and though I am yet to be convinced a single theme is enough to sustain an anthology (genre, yes), Getting Even: Revenge Stories will make you shudder and chuckle in equal measure.

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