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For much of history, women have gotten a pretty raw deal. They have been forced to cross-dress if they wanted to travel freely. They have been ostracized for making their living as prostitutes when few other economic opportunities existed. For gifts like the power to heal, they have been accused of witchcraft and hanged, the earliest reported instance in 1594 in Wales. The Greek goddess Cassandra even received the gift of prophesy from Apollo only to find that no one believed her visions of the future after she refused to have sex with him. In Kirby’s marvelous debut collection, however, none of these women are quietly suffering victims. Indeed, Cassandra, who foresaw the fall of Troy and the victory of the Greeks, relishes the delicious irony that “Trojan will not be synonymous with bravery or failure, betrayal or endurance” but with condoms. The stories, which highlight the lives of famous (and infamous) women from history as well as those of contemporary women and men, are both pointedly feminist and comic. In one, women transform into menacing creatures and discover other magical powers to protect themselves from men, but it’s not without a cost, as they wish they could remain “some softer version of themselves.” In another, a woman who keeps getting calls for a stranger named Gail pretends to be Gail and goes out on a date with one of the men who calls, but it doesn’t provide her with the new beginning she craves. Despite the distance from the past, the present moment is still fraught for women, who develop tough exteriors to protect their tender parts.

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