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Diana Comet and other improbable stories by Sandra McDonald (Lethe Press, 2010) is a strange collection. I started reading a couple of the shorter stories out of sequence, and immediately put them down as unsatisfying. Then I re-read a review at EDGE and so resolved to sit down and read it properly. I read from cover to cover, and I wasn’t at all disappointed.
The best stories in this collection are those describing the actions of Ms Diana Comet herself. A transgender spy posing as a woman of means (or a woman of means posing as a spy?), she drops her skirts at night and runs around as a slender young man, collecting evidence or saving the vulnerable. She’s shown as far from perfect (often rather pompous and occasionally rude), but she’s ultimately endearing and always fascinating. Her strength and pride make her a wonderful character, and a wonderfully positive representation of a trans* person in modern fiction – at a time when there are few.
McDonald manages something whimsical but classical, literary yet fantastic, underscored with real human interactions and real emotional resonance. Those shorter stories I’d read out of context hadn’t worked for me because of their subtlety – a subtlety that requires reading the stories around them to get the pay-off. Each story builds up more of McDonald’s world, more of her characters, adding to a deep and involving story about human nature and, most of all, the strength of the individual, the outsider, the other, and the love to be had between people of all kinds.
I want to read more about Ms Comet, her orphanage, and the world of Massasoit and New Dalli (iterations, of course, of real places in our own world). I want to read more of Sandra McDonald and her shimmering, elegant prose.
Yes, I recommend this book. Take a ride on a comet and see where Diana takes you.