Cut On The Bias
  edited by Stephanie Tillotson

Honno, 2010
Paperback





"She would always be repulsive to others – and therefore to herself."

Reviewed by Jason Makansi


Of all the mundane things to theme a story collection around, clothes and the women who wear them. What could possibly be duller than what we pull out of the closet every day or so irrelevant to “world peace” as high fashion when we want or need to play dress up? I’d recommend Cut on the Bias to all of you who might, as I did, think this way.

The collection is worth your time, not because most or even many of the stories are that great, but as an achievement in selection, editing, and production. Like a great album or CD, one where all the individual songs seem to belong together and flow, this collection gives meaning to the cliché, more than the sum of its parts. All of the stories are about the same length, a little longer here, a little shorter there. Surprisingly so, each story manages to address clothes in a way that makes you think about the lives and characters underneath them. I didn’t find one story in here that failed to accessorize the collection’s theme, even the few that read like fashion magazine essays.

I chose this collection, as I do many for review, precisely because the theme does nothing for me. I could care less about clothes. If clothes make the man, they make me Cro Magnon. So I hope to learn something, change in some tiny way, by insinuating myself into heretofore walled off areas. What you realize is not only how important clothes can be to others, but how deeply personal they are. What I think of as a morning nuisance, and God forbid I have to change clothes during the day, others obsess over. They are, after all, the costumes of our lives, as well as, aptly stated in the foreward, "objects of beauty, woven with memories and decorated with affection for ourselves and others."

Clothes are complicated, as is how we respond to them. I may not care one whit about the clothes on my back, but, in reading these stories, I realized how much I care about the clothes worn by women, and, deeper, how men and other women respond to them. In or out of their clothes, this reinforcing mechanism becomes a dynamic feedback loop, leading to more obsession, deeper response, and so on.

Just as most great CDs and albums have one outstanding song that, even amongst the collective good, rises above and beyond, Louder than Words is the "Born to Run," the "Layla," the "Stairway to Heaven," the "Bittersweet Symphony," of Cut on the Bias. This is a story that will bruise your gut and warm your heart no matter how many layers of clothes you wear. Hell, you could be wearing gladiator armor and you’d still rust up from the tears you’ll shed. All I can tell you is that for the few minutes of your life you are reading this story, you will think the character Rob is the finest human being on the planet. Strangely, the author of this story, Hilary Bowers, is described in the credits as a "sixty year old divorcee." No one would write that about another person these days, so this must be self-described. How unassuming could an author be? I’d describe her as someone deserving of the widest audience possible.

Cut on the Bias is edited with discipline and care, replete with examples of innovation, sensuality, terror, and humor to boot – a story told through email exchanges (Dear Joanna), a tale of cherries and red velvet (Black Cherries), a woman who preys on birds (Plumage), a reunion that isn’t what you think (Reunion), and a makeover television show in which figuring out who is mocking who is like looking at yourself in the three-way dressing room mirrors at the department store (On the Run from the Fashion Police).

All of these stories, by the way, are written by Welsh women. Maybe the shopping and fashion in Wales is so thin, these women must dress vicariously through their fiction. Or the opposite, haute couture makes the pen leak with envy when these authors return from the malls. No matter, save your petrol and your money. When it comes to enjoyable reads, Cut on the Bias is one size fits all, avoid that trip to the mall.



Jason Makansi has published half a dozen short stories and several poems in a variety of literary journals, as well as one story accepted by the Amazon Shorts Program. In 2009, he attended the renowned Sewanee Writer’s Conference held at the University of the South. Makansi has also published three professional books and numerous works of non-fiction in the fields of engineering, energy, environmental science, and economics.

Jason'ss other Short Reviews: Susie Bright (ed) "The Best of Best American Erotica"

Warren Adler "New York Echoes"

Frances Thimann "Cell and Other Stories"

Steven Coy (ed) "See You Next Tuesday: The Second Coming"

Deborah Bostock Kelley "Damaged Goods: Narrative Unendings from Inside My Heart and Mind"

David Gardiner "The Other End of the Rainbow"

Ellis Sharp "Dead Iraqis"

Daniel A. Hoyt "And Then We Saw The Flames"

Russell Bittner "Stories in the Key of C Minor"

"Mechanics Institute Review" by Various

Vivien Jones "Perfect 10"
                     
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Authors: Yasmin Ali, Hilary Bowers, Sue Coffey, Alys Conran, Hilary Cooper, Sue Fortune, Carys Green, Christine Harrison, Jenny Henn, Suzy Ceulan Hughes, Lorraine Jenkin, Rebecca Lees, Jo Lloyd, Jean Lyon, Barbara McGaughey, Debbie Moon, Joanna Piesse, Claudia Rapport, Rin Simpson, Kerry Steed, Sarah Todd Taylor, Stephanie Tillotson, Eloise Williams

Editor: Stephanie Tillotson is a published playwright, and has worked for the past ten years teaching, directing, and performing. This is her first editor’s post with Honno though she has published several stories through them.