“The Animal Women (Part 1)” by Alix E. Harrow
Reviewed by Martha Burns
Subverting a trope is hard work. Alix E. Harrow tries with great sincerity to do that in “The Animal Women (Part 1)” and, sadly, that very sincerity undermines the enterprise. Candis is a white sixth grader in Kentucky in 1968 whose father warns her away from the colored women in the woods following the unrest that results from the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. He says they are animals. Candis is drawn to the women, who she suspects are shapeshifters, hence animals in a much more fantastic sense. Candis has some evidence to back up this belief, yet it’s difficult to see this element as a central component of the tale. The focus is squarely on humanity’s racism. Multiple touches telegraph the intent, from Candis saying a young black man is the best looking man in the county to Candis’s awkwardness reading The Merchant of Venice in class. Yet, in the end, what we have is an exceedingly sincere tale of the redemptive power of magical negroes.