This Week in Short Fiction


When literary magazines publish “Women’s Issues,” they can run the danger of making women into a theme. As if fiction by and about women is a curiosity, something to enjoy for a moment, in one issue a year, before returning to your regularly scheduled old white men programming. The title itself can imply that the pages therein are devoted to, well, women’s issues (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but women don’t only write about women’s issues), sending grown men running for the hills for fear of reading about menstruation (their loss). But sometimes, a women’s issue comes along that takes those stereotypical “women’s issues” and completely turns them on their heads. I’m talking about Gigantic’s Women’s Issue, which went live this Tuesday.

With stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman, Silvina Ocampo, Xuan Juliana Wang, and Vanessa Norton, this isn’t your grandma’s women’s issue. Each under 1,000 words, the stories are sharp, unexpected, and unrelenting. In “The Internees,” Bergman gives us a story of the prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp reconnecting to their womanhood through expired lipstick. Wang gives us passive aggressive wedding planning and a cat that’s slowly changing colors in “Sooner or Later.” In “Precious,” Norton tells a story of a couple who compulsively buys Buff Orpingtons (which are not mythological creatures from Harry Potter, but are in fact a breed of chicken), only to abandon them when they cease being cute. And in “Forgotten Journey,” Ocampo addresses where babies come from in a way that can only be described as nightmarish.

Each of these stories addresses a stereotypical “women’s issue,” but in ways that subvert and complicate them. The lipstick in Bergman’s story has nothing to do with female vanity and everything to do with feeling human again in the most dehumanizing situation. In Wang’s story, the wedding planning is less about romance and building a future and more about the inevitable demise of a relationship. The couple in Norton’s “Precious” continually replace their pet chick every three weeks because once it starts growing into a chicken, once it stops being precious, they find they can’t love it anymore. And Ocampo gives us a version of the “birds and the bees” talk that appropriately reflects how earth-splitting that moment can be when a young girl learns what her body is capable of.

The stories in Gigantic’s Women’s Issue are funny and dark, complex and surprising, disturbing and powerful. There’s nothing here that’s maudlin or cute, not even the baby chickens. These, truly, are women’s issues.

Claire Burgess’s short fiction has appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, and PANK online, among others. Her stories have received special mentions in the Pushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, but haven’t actually made it into one yet. She’s a graduate of the Vanderbilt University MFA program, where she co-founded Nashville Review. She lives in Pittsburgh by way of the deep South and says things on Twitter @Clairabou_. More from this author →