Ann McMan did something so special with Backcast, that I’m not entirely sure how to talk about it. Part of me wants to be back in university so I can write an essay about how it handles storytelling and identity, and the rest of me just wants to tell you all to go read it and come back and talk to me about it. I guess I’ll just have to settle for reviewing it.
When Barb Davis receives a huge NEA grant for a project to create sculptures that are inspired by essays about transitions in women’s lives, she needs to find 13 lesbian writers, and fast. The crew she assembles all know each other, since they were previously arrested together at a creative convention, and they convene for two weeks at Barb’s cousin’s inn on Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Quinn, a butch erotica author who can’t swim and hasn’t fished before, decides to enter a pro-am bass fishing tournament. Kate and Shawn are finally in the same place for long enough to talk about their long distance relationship. Darien, a paranormal fiction author, has a ghost from her past show up in town just as she’s starting to get to know the tight-lipped V. Jay-Jay. And that’s not even the half of what happens in this book.
Given that Backcast is driven by its characters rather than any plot, it’s safe to say that the character work is incredibly strong.
Some characters we get to know better than others. We don’t really see or learn much about Linda, Cricket, or Gwen, but when a cast is this large, that’s okay. Unless it’s something everyone knows already, like that Kate and Shawn are in a relationship, information is doled out about each character with incredible care and timed for maximum impact. I wasn’t always ready, but it was always perfect (I’m looking at you, final essay).
The Writing Style
McMan structured Backcast so that we get a chapter of what’s going on with the women, followed by an essay by one of them. The essays are only numbered, so we don’t learn who wrote what until the appendix, which I would urge you not to read until you’ve finished the book. Some I guessed right, and the ones I didn’t changed things so much that I had to go back to the beginning and read the whole book again. I loved being wrong, and it was such a good way to read it.
The beauty of major pieces of each author’s identity being revealed through their essays is that it encourages us to think about who we are vs who we present. For example, one of the characters is an intersex woman, and despite there being another clue in the essay as to who the writer is, I still guessed wrong.
Each essay feels like it was written by a different person, so I bow to the versatility of the author.
I also love the diversity in the group of women. Some of them were people of colour, some were older, some were parents. One was an actuary, another works in asset recovery. There’s even a man in a dress, and I don’t want to say more about that other than to acknowledge the mastery in how that thread is handled.
As serious as I’ve made Backcast sound, it’s truly hilarious in parts and has some of the best insults I’ve seen in a while. I mean, when was the last time you’ve seen a well-aimed Loretta Swit joke?
This isn’t a con as much of a heads up, but for the people who have noticed that I mostly review romance, this is not a romance novel. Yes, there elements of romance here and there, but that’s not the point of it.
What a quirky, funny, beautiful read. I’ve never read a book by Ann McMan before, but this will definitely not be my last.
If you haven’t read Backcast, you must. If you have, come talk to me on Twitter. I’m going to go sit and wait in the corner with all of my feelings.
Excerpt from Backcast by Ann McMan
“I still don’t get it.” Montana Jackson was confused. “What possible relationship do spiderwebs have with writing? And what the hell is a ‘found object’?”
“A found object,” Viv explained, “is something you find. Right, Barb?”
“You mean like your lost virtue?” Quinn asked.
“Ha.” Towanda slapped Quinn on the arm. “She never had any virtue to lose, you nimrod.”
“Fuck you, Wanda.” Viv shot her the bird. “You’re just still jealous that I beat your ass out for that Lammy shortlist last year.”
Towanda glared at Viv. “It’s no accident that your name shows up on any list with the word ‘short’ in it. Besides, that wasn’t even my category. My publisher made a mistake on the submission forms.”
“Right.” Viv rolled her eyes. “I get it. Because your book should have been entered in—what was it? Genderqueer Scatological Anthologies?”
Quinn looked at her. “They have that category now? I never hear about this stuff.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612940632
- Publisher: Bywater Books
- Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios
- Narrator: Christine Williams
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