Review By Gabrielle

In this latest collection of short stories, Zoe gives us a window into the honest and interesting lives of some amazing characters.

Favourite Quote:

“After two shy dates, they kissed in a way that anaesthetized the former heartbreak. Alone, they were floating heads. Together, they reminded each other that a body is capable of heedless elation.”

Goodreads Synopsis: 

In these raucous and poignant short stories, bestselling novelist Zoe Whittall contends with the meaning of desire for both intimacy and danger in a world that questions the validity of femininity and queerness.

In “Oh, El” a dominant woman can’t stop herself from toying with a tender heart. In “Half Pipe” a teen girl’s heterosexual ambivalence gets her in trouble at a skate park. The title story, “Wild Failure,” is about the doomed love between an agoraphobic and a wilderness hiker trapped in a passionate relationship that might ruin them both—if a mountain lion doesn’t kill them first. Living collectively in a rental house, a group of bisexual roommates find themselves the subject of a true crime podcast in “Murder at the Elm Street Collective House.” In “The Sex Castle Lunch Buffet” a femme reflects on her brief stint at a strip club in the 90s when she learns of the death of a regular client. “The Sell-Out” is a satirical look at the role of literary ambition at a time when making a living as an artist has never been more difficult.

I’m embarrassed to admit this is my first Zoe Whittall book. She’s been on my list for years, but I just never got around to it. I saw her speak once at a literary festival, so I had a hunch I would fall head over heels for her work. I was not wrong. This book is perfection. I loved every single story in it.

I always forget how much I love reading short stories. I have no idea why. The art of crafting a good short story is, in many ways, harder than a full book. You need to develop the characters enough that we understand something about them; we need enough plot to draw us in, but not so much that we’re overwhelmed, and all in short order. I can say with confidence that Zoe is a master. Reading her short stories is like being air-dropped into the characters’ lives and getting a delirious glimpse of their world. 

It’s hard to pick a favourite amongst the collection, but the title story, “Wild Failure” is up there. Teprine is agoraphobic and she’s dating Jasper, a nature lover. They have little in common but their passionate sex life and a desire to not be alone. We follow them on their trip to Tucson and things do indeed, get wild, while on a hike.

In all of her stories, Zoe’s work feels unfiltered and raw. There is a shocking honesty about it. And the words, my gosh the words, are put together in such beautiful configurations, I nearly wept over many sentences.

If you love words and queer stories, definitely put this one on your list. Now, please excuse me as I go order Zoe’s entire back catalogue.

Thank you, HarperCollins for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.