But in the case of Missed Her, the fifth short story collection by Ivan E. Coyote, I was already emotional reading the dedication to “the freaks and geeks and queers and kids who, for whatever reason, cannot wait for school to be over. I want you to know we will all be here waiting for you.”
When it comes to evoking emotion, Ivan is a talented author indeed. Apparently several of the stories in Missed Her are reworkings of episodes recounted in her regular column in Toronto LGBT newspaper Xtra!
But for the first-time reader, they are beautiful and intimate autobiographical insights into Ivan’s life.
A storyteller with a cult following across Canada and USA, Ivan’s previous collections have been nominated for and awarded an assortment of prizes and other honours, and her debut novel Bow Grip is currently being developed into a feature film.
Queer and gender identities are recurrent central themes, with the dangers, discomfort and unease associated with various social interactions recounted with bravery and candour.
A skilfully-crafted and gorgeous anthology, told with talent, tenderness, warmth and sincerity...From doctors and taxi drivers to coffee shops and car parks, Ivan describes a series of situations that will resonate with queer communities.
But although it’s clear why Ivan has such a fiercely loyal LGBT following, her deftness with pace, language and characterisation while addressing wider themes, such as the universality of human heartbreak and the deaths of friends and family, means her writing is accessible to a broad audience.
Other stories in Missed Her acknowledge the confessional, cathartic power of storytelling, from teaching memoir writing to senior citizens to documenting family love affairs.
In Truth Story, “the biggest and most bad-assed-looking of the bikers” in the audience ends up bawling at a reading by Ivan, and Just a Love Story is the romantic tale of how she and her partner got together.
In Resident Expert, an anecdote about transsexual pornstar Buck Angel reminded me of a similar discussion in Armistead Maupin’s Michael Tolliver Lives, while This Summer, At Gay Camp is a sympathetic and affectionate account of being “fifteen years old and fearless…far from a pride parade or leather bar.”
As with any short story collection, some are stronger than others, but overall Missed Her is a skilfully-crafted and gorgeous anthology, told with talent, tenderness, warmth and sincerity. Although it’s only early days, it’s a safe bet that it’ll be one of my favourite books of the year.