Chaucer's Women





DLSIJ Press, Oct 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Chick Lit Short Stories

"Hell hath no fury like a room full of insomniac women ... especially those in pursuit of chocolate."

Fourteen women are isolated at a Womenís Wellness Spa, during a storm and power outage. The narrator is the night clerk or Hostess, who, to get them all through the night, sets up a storytelling contest. The Hostess does sharp little word pictures of the guests for us, so we can see what to expect from each Ė almost.

THE INSOMNIAC TALES is a project worked up for fun by DLSIJ Press. They brought together a group of their own authors, each of whom wrote a story suggested by Geoffrey Chaucerís 1400 AD classic, THE CANTERBURY TALES. The idea was to parallel Chaucerís concept, and sometimes the language, but update it. I didnít find the author list until I reached the end, and I have not read THE CANTERBURY TALES, so I read each story without a clue what to expect.

The Knightís Tale: A determined woman takes eerie vengeance against her prince. The tale of the first vampire.
The Reeveís Tale: A sharp practice businessman is targeted for revenge through his womenfolk. Evil is its own reward.
The Cookís Tale: A piano bar player makes some lousy choices. But which of several cooks is the Cook?
The Saylorís Tale: A wife beset by two gorgeous men finds a way to teach them both a lesson. I knew without doubt who it was written by on the first page, when the beautiful words and phrasing made my head start to float.
The Prioressís Tale: A devout young man takes action against abortion. My description is straightforward, the story isnít. Written in verse.
The Nunís Priestessís Tale: The spiritual journey of a lost girl looking for truth. Mostly metaphorical philosophy.
The Pardonerís Tale: Starts with a truly excellent knock-knock joke. Be sure you recognize the tongue-in-cheek Bible-thumping for what it is, because this story is funny.
The Wife of Bathís Tale: Sour recounting of how a downtrodden wife turns the tables. The Wife of Bath has a major grudge against men.
The Summonerís Tale: A seemingly spoiled, clueless woman actually has things well in hand. Enjoyably clever. The only case where the Hostessí description of the storyteller leaves us thoroughly unprepared for her story.
The Clerkís Tale: The theme of Chaucerís Clerksí Tale was unconditional female submissiveness. If I tell you what this insomniacís tale is about, there will be no surprises left.
The Merchantís Tale: Older businesswoman buys a young husband. The tale is laced with word games that rarely work. This is the way the Merchant would talk, but I found it irritating.
The Squiresí Tale: A mother and baby are driven from their planet by war, to make new lives on Earth. The all-too-obvious message of this story is that lesbians can have true love.
The Second Nunís Tale: A passionate young woman is persuaded that her nature is evil. The dilemma is worn-out, but the glowing Second Nun brings it back to life. R rated.

Iím not going to differentiate among the authors, who have chosen to sign themselves as the unified "Chaucerís Women". As in all short story collections, the quality of writing varies. The remaining mystery is, who wrote the Hostessís viewpoint, upon which all the stories hang? It is entertaining and insightful, a happy juggling of many elements.

The purpose of THE INSOMNIAC TALES is light entertainment, with a caprice for the educated. I wanted to pretend to be educated on the subject, so I found on the internet a summary of Chaucerís stories. How closely have Chaucerís Women paralleled Chaucer? We have stories like The Reeveís Tale, whose plot summarizes exactly alike in both Chaucer and INSOMNIAC TALES. We have stories like The Summonerís Tale, which parallels Chaucer in prologue and story, except that satire turns the message upside down. Then we have others like The Nunís Priestessís Tale, whose story has nothing in common with Chaucer but a red feather Ė at least not that my cheat sheet shows.

In spite of Chaucer, each writer seems to be writing a story she personally wants to write. The issues are todayís womenís issues, told with in-jokes and attitude. It ends with a little contest, if you look carefully. Pardon me now, while I go work out the puzzle.

September 2003 Review


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