It was that eye-catching jacket that attracted me to Hannah Vincent’s She-Clown and Other Stories although I’d spotted Amanda at Bookish Chat was interested and she has a sharp eye for short stories. Vincent already has a couple of novellas under her belt but this is her first collection of stories which are all about women, many of them in tricky circumstances of one sort or another.
The sixteen pieces that make up She-Clown and Other Stories stretch over a mere 160 pages, some briefer than others beginning with Portrait of the Artist in which the parents of a bright young girl are called into her school to discuss her disturbing writing. Several explore the gender power imbalance – Carnival sees one woman accept the her boss’ initiation rite while her friend does not, having chosen to impersonate him at the office fundraiser. Others portray coercive relationships in a more tangential way: in Connie and Me a friendship between a Chinese student and an ageing ex-model living with a gambler ends poignantly. Two more of the sixteen stood out for me: Camel Toe in which two ageing sisters come alive at a netball match, one shedding her relentless caring role, and the eponymous She-Clown who performs to a sceptical audience then has her own cynicism overturned when a children’s birthday party gig doesn’t end quite as she expected. Perhaps the most satisfying, though is the final story, Woman of the Year, in which the preceding pieces’ main protagonists are all brought together at an awards ceremony.
Vincent explores her feminist theme with wit and humour, occasionally bringing her readers up short with a touch of the surreal. It takes quite a degree of discipline to tell a story in ten pages or fewer, as so many of the pieces in this collection are, but Vincent carries it off beautifully. Her sharp attention to detail, smartly demonstrated in Woman of the Year, and clean, spare writing coupled with the delivery of more than a few surprises, small twists and subversive details, make this a pleasing collection. Just two stories didn’t work for me, a pretty impressive hit rate for a collection of sixteen.
If you’re keen to get your hands on a copy of She-Clown and Other Stories, you can order one direct from Myriad Editions. They’re a small publisher who will be struggling in these difficult times. This is their 100th publication and I’m hoping they’ll be around to publish 100 more.
Myriad Editions: Oxford 2020 9781912408382 176 pages Paperback