Book Review : Tragedy Queens - Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath (2018)
Six weeks ago, I was a Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath virgin. I knew who they were, but that was it. They weren’t uninteresting to me or anything, but certain artists demand that you commit to them. Either you feel the calling or you don’t, but they don’t accept tourists. So, I thought a short story anthology inspired by their work could help me cheat my way in. And it did. Tragedy Queens : Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath is a surreal trip through a parallel dimension permeated by haunted memories, life-defining heartbreaks and endless cycle of the tragic and the mundane. The kind of things I like, you know?
It’s a common theme with short story anthologies (and rock shows, to be honest), but the opener was extremely strong. The Blacklist, by little known MFA candidate Kathryn Louise, features a young woman weaponizing her beauty in order to stop an abusive photographer. The way men and women differently deal with this kind of situation always fascinated me. While a man would’ve walked in, give the pervert a sound beating and got themselves arrested, a woman will gain his trust, make herself vulnerable enough to blur the lines and then fuck his shit up and cruel and unusual ways. Needless to say, I loved it.
Another story that profoundly resonated was Devora Gray’s Pipedreams. I had heard of Gray before, but knew her just as well as I did Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath. Her story, more influenced by Plath than it is by Del Rey, features a young woman seemingly heading to the end of her life only to find a symbolic rebirth in the darkest place. I’m a big face-your-demons kind of guy, so I got a kick out of her ambiguous relationship to her boyfriend. Was he willing to sacrifice himself for her? Did he embody he inner demons? Gray drew a vivid and heartbreaking scene I could almost overhear, soaking in the heavy silence of a quiet lane.
Among the other stories I thought stood out in Tragedy Queens : Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath are Brendan Vidito’s dreamlike Stag Loop, which easily could’ve been featured in Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s Lost Films; Tiffany Scandal’s surreal, cinematic and over-the-top Loose Ends: A Movie and JC Drake’s Corrine, which I thought captured the haunting quality of teenage years. Everything is happening for the first time, so it always lingers in memory as important and even sometimes life-defining stuff. Even if it ain’t. The majority of Tragedy Queens’ material range from good to exceptional, but I thought these five stood out.
Anthologies are always somewhat of a grab bag. Not everything is going to work for you and I found that whatever stuck too close to Sylvia Plath and/or Lana Del Rey, but quoting them or explicitly using settings, didn’t work as well for me. I thought Tragedy Queens : Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath was at its best when it was “haunted” by its two muses. When you could feel them in the air, like electricity. I sounds a little corny when said like that, but the stories quoted above all have that quality to it. I don’t read anywhere near as many short story anthologies as I used to (and I’m eternally thankful for that), but this one carried its theme with enough power and vividness to make it worth my while.