By Sarah Miller
In the introduction to this anthology, the editors, Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra, say, “we wanted to fill a book with stories about queer characters simply living life and finding happiness.” In this they have succeeded. They have put together a collection of vignettes of queer life in many different time periods, and although the characters experience challenges, they all succeed in finding a happy ending, or at least the hint of a happy ending. This is, as the editors had hoped, a refreshing change from representations of queer characters that deal in doom and gloom.
The vignettes are very short, around five or six pages long, and most are in comic form, although there are also two written stories. While they range in time period from the prehistoric to communist Russia, some common themes emerge: love across social classes, needing to run away to be yourself, transformation, living outside societal norms or even the law. The themes tie all the stories together well, several threads weaving amongst each other to form a whole that tells a different story than the one we are used to hearing. However, sometimes the threads become a bit repetitious—especially those with the theme of running away. Several stories feature having to leave the current situation in order to live and love truly and fully. The repetition is not wholly unexpected, as the reader knows from the introduction that each story will have a happy ending, but it does become a little tedious.
While the themes and endings of the stories repeat themselves, the style of each entry is unique, ranging from the European-style comic Contrapposto to the manga-like style of Felix Culpa, from the darkly contrasting Anonymously Yours to the soft greyscale of In Any Life. Each story is a showcase for the skills of a young talent, and I hope to see more from each of them. These differences in style of line work, shading, and influence save the anthology from the repetition present in the storylines, providing enough variety to keep the reader interested in seeing more: while the story might have an ending similar to another in the anthology, the tone of each varies according the style of art and writing.
As is the nature of short stories, more questions are left unanswered than are answered. Happy endings are hinted at or outright depicted, but will the happiness last? How will the reaction of the wider culture to love or identity that does not conform to the norm affect the characters’ long-term happiness? In the case of the stories that feature characters running away from untenable situations or towards happier ones, the end of the vignette feels more like the beginning of a longer tale, one that, in most cases, I wish I had the chance to read. This anthology could perhaps better be called Dates: An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction Beginnings.
Dates: An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction Stories
Editors: Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra
Publisher: Margins Publishing