Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country and Other Stories by Chavisa Woods 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

One of the very first books I accepted for review when I started Grab the Lapels in 2013 was Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind by Chavisa Woods, so we have bookish history. It seems Woods has a penchant for long titles and short story collections, which is lucky for readers (or listeners), because her imagination is both wild and grounded in the familiar (if you’re from the Midwest). Woods coming of age during 9/11 also plays a role in her fiction. Signing up for the military, hunting Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, bombings, and prayer all enter and reenter stories like “How to Stop Smoking in Nineteen Thousand Two Hundred and Eighty-Seven Seconds, Usama” (a play on USAma instead of Osama) and “What’s Happening on the News?”

Yet, the stories themselves aren’t repetitive. Some are speculative, such as aliens making your couch fly you out of a town of 3,000 in Illinois, or a transman whose Mohawk becomes a miniature version of the Gaza strip (much to his mother’s embarrassment; hasn’t she dealt with enough?).

Others are coming of age stories. “Zombie” introduces us to twelve-year-old girls who discover a homeless lady in a crypt whom they adopt as a pet. The whole thing is convincingly terrifying, both for what this woman tells them about sexual deeds and her attempts to push alcohol and cigarettes on them, but also because we have no clue who she is; her tale of woe never matches. “Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country” is also a coming-of-age piece but reads more like a prose poem than a plot-drive story. The speaker details ways to not only avoid boredom, but rattle the sheeple in small towns, through a list of things to do that pulses with a poetic beat.

Oftentimes, queer characters come face to face with “decent society” and try to make their way regardless, like in “Take the Way Home that Leads Back to Sullivan Street.” Cleverly turning the theme on its head, Woods includes “Revelation,” a story about an elderly woman who was a founding member of the local church. Since her husband passed away, she’s discovered the joys of masturbation. When the pastor’s wife says she had a vision that someone is harboring a sinful secret, the woman assumes it’s her. But a clandestine meeting reveals some surprising parishioner behavior!

Rebecca Mitchell reads almost all of the tracks, using a clear tone of voice that surprisingly matches the characterization of each very different story. I could not, however, get over the way she pronounced “always” as “all-was.” The second voice narrator, Rudy Sanda, reads “A New Mohawk,” which I thought was fitting because the narrator is in first-person from the point of view of a transman, and “A Little Aside,” which I honestly don’t remember because it’s so brief and sort of blended into “A New Mohawk.” When will audiobook publishers learn to put a chime between short stories?

A highly recommended collection that could be enjoyed in either audio or text!

16 comments

  1. I’ve never thought about how audiobook producers distinguish between stories – or chapters, come to that. I will have to ask my husband what his experience is! This sounds a bit magic realism for me but also inventive and fun.

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  2. Audiobooks are all over the place when it comes to chapter breaks, cd breaks, character breaks. CD breaks are the worst. If the publisher doesn’t put in a voice saying “that is the end of the disc. Please insert the next disc” then you don’t change the disc until you recognise a string of words you heard before (hours ago if you’re not listening continuously). Some readers will read the chapter headings and then you have to recognise some subtle change of tone to realise that that was a heading and not just text. And speech by one person that runs into speech by another person, and you’re groping backwards to work out when the switchover was.
    And after all that, it mostly works.

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    • Ooof, realizing you’re listening to the same thing you listened to an hour ago will send me into a wee rage! Especially when it’s a book I’m not really enjoying. I don’t know why the audiobook industry doesn’t put out a basic pole entitled “What Honks Your Hooter When You’re Listening To An Audiobook.” This would all be solved in a week.

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  3. It’s funny how some have a penchant for long titles and some for short. I think it was Whispering Gums, who in her roundup for the year’s reading, recently mentioned a plethora of one-word novel titles. That was more my experience in 2020. But maybe that’ll change. For those who enjoy book spine poetry, this author’s works would probably come in handy…

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  4. A chime between stories/chapters seems like an obvious thing for audiobooks to be missing- I wonder how you’re supposed to recognize titles of new pieces if they don’t have a way to distinguish that? It is good to hear they had second reader for the story from a trans perspective- even better if the reader was also trans! And Woods sounds like a fun and talented author; I’ve got a copy of her memoir 100 Times on my shelf I need to pick up, and this post makes me curious to try some of her fiction as well. Great review!

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