Little Feasts by Jules Archer has quickly become my favorite short story collection. I flew through this seventy-eight page book, and I've read it twice more since then. This collection is full of fun and deliciously weird stories all told from a female perspective.
What caught my attention right away was the table of contents believe it or not. The stories are intriguingly-named and made me want to devour this book immediately. Some of the titles include: "How to Love a Monster with Average-Sized Hands," "Anne Boleyn Could Drink You Under the Table," and "Contents of a Letter Found on a Stained Bar Napkin." How could you not want to immediately discover what adventure awaits in those stories?
Another interestingly-titled story, "In-N-Out Doesn't Have Bacon" is actually my favorite. I mean, the first line of the story (and of the entire book) is "I know she fucked the tree." What? This story follows a woman and her sister who, you guessed it, likes to have sexual relations with plants. I've since learned that this is called "ecosexualism," but at the time, I had no idea about this type of sexuality. I was enthralled with the subject, but what makes this my favorite story of the collection is how expertly Jules Archer crafts it.
In the first two pages, the reader learns that the narrator's sister likes to have this kind of relationship with plants, that she's been expelled from college, spent time in a psych ward, and that the narrator's husband was killed in a drunk driving accident. Despite learning all of this so quickly, somehow Archer keeps this from becoming an information dump. As someone who likes to write, I know it is difficult to convey that much information that quickly without it feeling cumbersome and boring for the reader. That continues throughout the rest of the stories, which made me completely enamored with the collection.
I also liked that almost all of the stories end in a plot twist or cliffhanger. "Happiness, Lies and Reno Rush" is a story that is only a paragraph long but it packs a punch. It details a couple who seems perfect, happy, and in love. An affectionate tone runs through the piece, but in the last sentence, everything changes. I was so surprised that I just put the book down for a second and let it sink in.
Archer's cliffhangers are even better. In a story titled, "Prettier Things," the main character watches as her super hot neighbor brings home attractive blonde women. The thing is, the women never leave his house. The narrator (and the reader) assume that he's killing these women. The narrator, who is a brunette, decides that she wants to be invited into the home and goes to her hairdresser to dye her hair blonde. She goes over to her neighbor to show off her new hairdo, and he uses the opportunity to lightly choke her before sending her back home. At first, I was put off by this storyline until the final page. I thought that perhaps Archer was purporting that women have an innate desire for men to harm them, but then the narrator changed my mind. The narrator notes, "I practice the story I'll tell the press when the cops find him out. But until then, he's mine." The reader is made to figure out what happens after the story ends, which is maddening. But I also like that Archer peppers in structured blanks in some of her stories. It leaves the stories more open to interpretation.
There was one story that I didn't care for that much called "Hard to Carry and Fit in a Trunk." A girl is not happy with her weight, she thinks that she is too fat. She wants to lose weight, but she doesn't want to just so she can fit into society's version of "perfection." She wants to lose weight so she would be easier to kidnap. In this story, the narrator truly does want violence to happen to her. I don't know of a single woman who wants to be kidnapped and harmed, and it made me uncomfortable that the narrator expressed interest in this.
I also want to put a content warning on one of the stories. "Backseat Blues" features a woman dealing with mental illness and suicidal tendencies. If that's not something you like to read about, I would definitely skip that story.
Another reason why I loved Little Feasts is because it was everything I hoped Little Weirds by comedian and actress Jenny Slate would be. Little Weirds is supposed to be a feminist collection of short stories. I was super excited for the release in November of 2019 but I was extremely disappointed. I think Slate's message was there, but it got lost in a flowery language that got annoying after a while. I tried read the whole thing, but after I got through half of it, I had to put it down. I would say that if you were disappointed by Little Weirds, definitely pick up Little Feasts instead.
Jessica Purgett is the founding editor of The Mark Literary Review. She will graduate with her Bachelor's degree in English and marketing from Mount Mercy University in May of 2020.