Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay did not set out to create a traditional anthology of monster stories. In the introduction to the 13th instalment in the Exile Anthology series, the editors write about the monsters in their book as outsiders rather than villains, marginalized rather than powerful. They also write about carving out safe spaces for telling stories by and about those who often aren’t accepted or understood, and paths to belonging. Those are laudable goals for a book that could very easily have been just another unsubtle, undifferentiated catalogue of things that go bump in the night.
The strongest pieces in the book are by Andrew F. Sullivan, Rati Mehrotra, Angeline Woon, and Corey Redekop, and it’s no coincidence that their monsters all straddle the ambiguous border between the literal and the metaphorical. “The Shuck,” Sullivan’s take on one of the various Black Dog myths of the British Isles, drips with grief and despair, while Mehrotra’s “Vetala” uses a near-future take on a Hindu spirit to chart a painful path out of grief and into redemption. “The Mermaid and the Prince of Dirt,” Woon’s clever reworking of the Little Mermaid fable, can be vulgar and grating, but forces the reader to look past those things and see our shared vulnerability. Redekop’s “Outside Monster” is emotionally manipulative, but asks serious questions about what monsters really look like.
Of the weaker pieces – most of which have interesting ideas behind them, but commit the venal sins of having middling prose or dwelling too much on the surface, even when delving into literal caves – only Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s “Antony’s Arboretum” is truly unsuccessful. Saklikar attempts to wed the logic and rhythms of poetry to the structures and conventions of prose, and like most such experiments, the result is only semi-coherent, and ultimately does justice to neither.
Those Who Make Us stumbles in a few places, but the stories show tremendous openness and compassion in the face of the world’s darkness, unfairness, and indifference. This unconventional anthology largely lives up to the challenge Morris and Tremblay set for themselves.