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Wry, absurd, and almost casually poignant—Nicole Flattery’s writing feels like a genre of its own.

Almost as soon as you start this book, you can tell that you’re reading something different; it’s the kind of book that makes you tilt your head to side. Whatever direction you expect these stories to go in, they go in the opposite direction. Flattery approaches her subject matter—women experiencing turmoil of some kind, whether it be physical abuse, emotional abuse, bereavement, abortion—obliquely, giving you just enough to understand that her characters have all of this lurking in their inner lives, but not enough for you to fully understand the extent of its impact on them. There is so much implied meaning in these stories; you’re given the tip of the iceberg and expected to infer the size of the structure that lies beneath it. And this style of writing is really the perfect strategy for a short story: it gives you enough information to feel like you know something substantial about these characters, but not so much that they’re rendered transparent or caricatured.

“I said that I had to leave to discover things about myself. I withheld the fact that there wasn’t much to discover. Just ordinary surface and, beneath that, more desperate surface.”

“In that brief moment everyone saw my mind and my mind was absent of all ideas. I thought I would be a different person by this time in my life, but I was actually becoming less like someone else and more like myself. It was troubling.”

Though these stories deal with serious subject matter, they also don’t take themselves too seriously. Flattery doesn’t strictly rely on a sense of realism in her narratives, but instead goes in slightly absurd, off-kilter directions. The stories in this collection are told with a wry, deadpan sense of humour, one that buoys them and prevents them from getting bogged down in melodramatic territory. Though Show Them a Good Time is sometimes facetious in dealing with subject matter you would maybe expect it to take seriously, it’s also not flippant and invests in moments that matter to its characters.


Show Them a Good Time is a collection that is exactly as its title promises. It gets at both the weird, funny spectacle of performance, but also the pressure to perform, to show them a good time when you are decidedly not having a good time. It’s about how performance in the everyday can at times be artistic expression and at others voyeuristic and exploitative.

Thank you so much to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

PS: I highly recommend checking out the Stinging Fly Podcast’s episode on Nicole Flattery where they read and discuss the first and titular short story of this collection, “Show Them a Good Time.”

PPS: my favourite short stories were “Show Them a Good Time,” “Abortion, a Love Story,” and “Not the End Yet.”

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Image result for topics of conversation by miranda popkeyThank you to Random House for providing me with an eARC of this via Edelweiss! This novel comes out on January 7.

Topics of Conversation is another in a string of books I’ve come across lately that center on and explore what I’m going to call the problematic woman. The problematic woman is not problematic because she is Bad—whatever that means—but because she is “full of problems or difficulties.” By “problematic,” here, I mean women who feel too much or too little, are too passive or too foolhardy, judge their decisions too harshly or not enough. Women who, in one way or another, struggle to calibrate their actions, thoughts, and emotions to their environments. (This struggle isn’t necessarily pathological, though it sometimes is.)

Topics of Conversation follows in the wake of novels like Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Julia Armfeld’s Salt Slow novels that find women experiencing a whole spectrum of unappealing/undesirable/uncomfortable emotional states. I think the synopsis of Popkey’s novel is exactly right; it is indeed a novel about “desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt.” It doesn’t make you root for its protagonist, exactly, but it does make you understand her.

And honestly, I’m glad that I’m seeing more and more novels like Popkey’s and Moshfegh’s and Armfeld’s. I love seeing women being hypocritical and selfish and callous. I love seeing authors write women who have the capacity to experience all these emotions, even the so-called “negative” ones.

Bring on the problematic women.


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•••some thoughts•••

• by far my biggest issue with this is how plot- and exposition-heavy it was. it was like bardugo did a shitton of research and just wanted to include as much of it in the book as possible. which, like, great, research is good, but i don’t need to hear about every tiny little detail of every single secret society. there’s a fine line between world-building and info-dumping, and ninth house did not walk that line well–or at all, really.

• worse than that though, ninth house‘s plot was convoluted. it felt like at any given moment, there were like 5 plot threads that we had to keep track of, all of which i couldn’t keep track of, let alone care about…

• so, uh, turns out i don’t really give a single shit about secret societies. or mysteries involving secret societies.

• the writing was fine; there was nothing glaringly bad about it, but i expected so much more from leigh bardugo, given what i know she’s capable of (hello, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are masterpieces). sadly though, there wasn’t a single moment in this book that was memorable to me in any way, not a single moment that i found impressionable enough to remember after finishing this book.

• because the plot dominated so much of the book, it felt like the character work just didn’t get the time it needed. alex is definitely the main character here; the plot only moves because she does. but even though so much of the book is about her, i never really felt like i saw her grow. we find out more about her throughout the book, sure, but character knowledge is not character development.

• yeah, this was underwhelming. i may or may not have zoned out multiple times while listening to its audiobook. and i didn’t really care that i did, to be honest. my patience ran out about halfway through this, and after that i just wanted it to be over.

• probably won’t be reading the sequel ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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