Remember the days of skinned knees, sliding across hardwood floors in socks, and playing with the kids next door? In the stories of Close to Spider Man
, Ivan E. Coyote sets those memories of childhood innocence against both the harsh, desolate landscape of the Yukon and the expectations of society that girls will be--should be--girls. Her coming-of-age stories are told from the perspective of young girls and women--often ones who feel they should be boys--as they become painfully aware of their sexual identity.
The innocence of her female characters is endearing. In "No Bikini," the six-year-old protagonist undertakes a "sex change" by pretending to be a boy all summer during swim classes, naturally feeling more comfortable sporting only her bikini bottom. According to her insightful six-year-old's reasoning, as a boy "it was easier not to be afraid of things, like diving boards and cannonballs and backstrokes, when nobody expected you to be afraid." In the title story, Coyote recalls the crazy things teenagers do for love when her unnamed main character scuttles across the roof of a building in order to break into the apartment of a love interest she believes to be in danger. The most touching story, "Red Sock Circle Dance," grants the protagonist, also named Ivan, the remarkable opportunity to come face-to-face with a younger version of herself when she meets a lover's three-year-old son, who has yet to learn that the world looks harshly on boys who wear tube tops. --Leah Eichler
From Publishers Weekly
From the far reaches of northern Alaska, the 13 brief, interconnected coming-of-age stories of Coyote's debut collection are as blissfully rich as the countryside in which they are set. All the tomboyish female storytellers are assured and absorbing, acutely aware of their emerging lesbianism while strapped with the true knowledge of "what trouble girls really were." In "No Bikini," an unnamed six-year-old narrator is fearlessly aware of her androgynous possibilities and, to the horror of her mother, spends an entire summer sans her bikini top, posing as a boy during swimming lessons. Pushing gender boundaries back even further, a woman applies to legally change her name to Ivan in "You're Not in Kansas Anymore" because Dorothy, her given name, simply "doesn't fit the rest of me." Coyote's vivid descriptions of family gatherings spiked with raw emotion make many of these stories little gems. In the moving tale "This, That, and the Other Thing," the author merges a recipe for spicy chipotle chicken with scenes from her parents' excruciating separation. The emotive "There Goes the Bride" is the anguished inner monologue of a woman attending the heterosexual wedding ceremony of her former lover. Ever proud, but mourning her loss, she finally retreats to a back corner and communes with oddball relatives. Fronted with alluring K.D. Lang album-style cover art, this lean, thoroughly entertaining literary scrapbook of Yukon lesbian life will speak strongly to lesbian readers, but deserves a crossover audience for its surefooted, humorous take on misfit love and familial solidarity. (Dec.)
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