According to the publisher’s copy accompanying Leesa Dean’s debut story collection, “women [in fiction] are too often cast as inherently good.” It goes on to caution that the “perfectly imperfect” women within these pages “don’t need to be liked and are not compelled to make apologies.” It is as though readers are being issued a dare.
Whether women in fiction are too often portrayed as “inherently good” is a matter of debate. Literature is rife with female anti-heroes, from Lady Macbeth to Emma Bovary to Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne. What characterizes the women in Dean’s stories is that they are neither heroes nor villains, but brutally human – flawed, vulnerable, potentially dangerous. They regularly find themselves in precarious situations, and their instincts are refreshingly indelicate.
For example, in “Libertad,” a woman on vacation in Mexico with her husband finds herself in bed with a local stranger after a night out. When her husband confronts her, she turns the tables on him instead of accepting blame: “[T]here was something satisfying about lashing out. She’d always been a good wife, never raised her voice. Yelling felt good, even if she was being unreasonable.” In “Proverbs,” a young woman working on a commune-style farm tries to feel empathy for her chatty, self-loathing bunkmate, “[b]ut her disdain lingers, persistent like the weeds choking the fields and the dirt living under her nails.” “Tiebreaker,” one of the collection’s edgiest offerings, features a female hitchhiker who has an unexpected reaction to her driver’s stories about his violent past: “Why did she have the urge to slip one of his hands, those former instruments of torture, under her dress?”
Other stories, like “Centre of the Universe” and “One Last Time,” read like lamentations on heartbreak, loss, and unrequited or damaged love, but it’s the stories that buzz with danger and excitement in which Dean’s talent really shines. A woman with an unhealthy attraction to violence tries on an aspiring war journalist’s bulletproof vest in “Conflict Zone”: “‘If you had a gun,’ she tells him, ‘I’d let you shoot me.’”
Subversive, illicit, and with a knack for final lines packed with innuendo, Waiting for the Cyclone is a pleasure readers need not feel guilty about.