Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire
A clever play on the seminal novel Kiss of the Spider Woman by Argentine writer and political exile Manuel Puig, Amber Dawn’s anthology Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire promises a transgressive alternative to traditional horror literature and its stereotypical, categorical portrayals of women and their sexuality. Packed in this slim volume are seventeen individual works by sixteen authors, primarily short stories with poems dispersed in between. The very existence and formation of a work like Fist of the Spider Woman is deeply political and feminist through its aggregate of queer and progressive writers as well as its subversive representations of women, sex, love and relationships.
That being said, I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to love it with a capital L. Unfortunately, for such an exciting and politically charged production, this book ultimately failed to hook me as its reader. As is a reality for many anthologies, the quality and effectiveness varied from work to work. I did not expect shivers, gasps nor stiffened hairs as part of my reading experience; however, most of the pieces failed to render any kind of response other than blasé tolerance as I turned their pages. The promise this book carries is great, but unfortunately lacking in its execution. They did, however, contain an element of playful twistedness and imagination. I appreciated that the writers did not shy away from taboo subjects, with stories such as Michelle Tea’s “Crabs” (which I found quite enjoyable, and ended being my personal favorite) exploding in raw, corporeal descriptions fused with humor.
Overall, Fist of the Spider Woman's countering portrayal of women characters (especially its villains) is refreshing in comparison to the saturation of femme fatales and damsels in distress one is offered in typical literature, but these radical character productions are sadly overshadowed by tepid prose. Queer horror literature has such transformative potential, and though I wouldn’t say this work embodied that, it is an honest start.