I was fortunate to receive a copy of Anne Goodwin’s Becoming Someone from the publisher, Inspired Quill, for review. Anne Goodwin is a prolific writer and has been short-listed for the Polari Prize, among other accolades. Upon reading six-part collection, it becomes quite clear how and why she has been so recognized.
One of the great successes for Goodwin’s collection is that the author manages to balance a wide array of topics and narrators without losing cohesion. Her narrators are male and female, young and old, and yet Goodwin’s voice centers and grounds them all in a common worldview and purpose. It is a kind of hopeful cynicism, the type one might recognize from the likes of Vonnegut who, despite seeing the world for what it is (when it is often not much to speak of), still wades through each day and experience from a place of love. So, while many of the stories in Goodwin’s collection are critical, even superficially hopeless, there is an underlying belief in something more and bigger than what we feel is possible on our own bad days.
This balance is on display immediately in the first story, “Madonna and Child.” While the plot describes one of the most terrible situations a person might ever have to face, it is supported by a character whose presence makes the situation survivable, both for the main character and for the reader. Similarly, in “How’s Your Sister?”, Goodwin describes the worst kind of family tension and a mental illness that seems unimaginable to most, but couches this in the very realistic, everyday way that many of us would indeed bring to the situation. Goodwin’s grasp of our social awareness (or lack thereof) and how we deal with trauma, pain, and embarrassment is on full display in these stories, and it reminds us to remind ourselves that, perhaps, there is a better way to treat ourselves and each other.
Some of the stories I enjoyed most from this collection are the ones that dip into the bizarre realm of sci-fi/fantasy realism. Goodwin has particular interest in marrying the real world with fantastical situations in a way that makes the bizarre seem common, and this turns out to be a simply fun and effective way of driving home important points about social issues, like gender equality, sexuality, aging and abuse, among other things. Two stories, in particular, “Telling the Parents” and “Heir to the Throne,” stand out in my mind as particularly accomplished in this way.
If you are a fan of the short story, enjoy reading about the human condition from a paradoxically cynical but hopeful perspective, or like a little dose of the uncanny with your realism, this collection is a fun ride. Many thanks to Inspired Quill, an ethical indie publisher with a big heart, for the chance to read and review it.