According to award winning, critically acclaimed Spokane author Jess Walter, "Sharma Shields' Favorite Monster is a deliciously bent collection of short stories -- funny, disturbing and surprisingly profound. A wildly entertaining survey of the modern habits of the cyclops, the Sasquatch, the werewolf, and perhaps the most monstrous of all, the human -- this book is fantastic in every sense of the word."
It is hard to disagree with Walter. Shields won the 2011 Autumn House Fiction prize for her anthology. It is easy to see why as one begins to savor her stories. These tales, several of which are set in either Spokane or Seattle, play with fun ideas such as a cyclops from Greek mythology working at a public relations firm or a werewolf who is an aspiring novelist. Shields brings enough gravitas and wisdom to her tales to keep them from just being whimsical urban fantasy stories.
In one story called "Brains and Beauty", a young woman describes what her life was like after the Gorgon Medusa accidentally turned her brother Bernard into stone when she was a child. The narrator shares several examples of how her relationship with her parents became strained after the incident that are both extremely awkward and oddly funny.
The narrator goes on to describe how she encountered Medusa a few more times as an adult outside her dental office in Spokane. Shields departs from her source material in interesting ways as she reveals that Medusa's guilt over turning Bernard into stone reduced her to a street person who had several run-ins with local law enforcement. Without saying too much about the plot, the story is a fascinating blend of humor and poignant descriptions of pain and loss.
Another story called "Field Guide to Monsters of the Inland Northwest" is about a man who married a female Sasquatch. He works for a cryptozoology expert from Idaho. Unfortunately, his relationship with his wife is damaged after she reluctantly participates in one of the expert's presentations.
The plot seems like something that could be an episode of "The Venture Bros." or possibly "The Twilight Zone", but Shields treats her characters with enough dignity to elevate the story above the delightful weirdness of the premise. The Sasquatch Esmeralda and the unnamed Projectionist have interesting quirks, but they are also lovable, surprisingly normal people going through things that will resonate for many readers. Shields' story will get readers thinking about things such as prejudice, how people can hurt each other without meaning to and why relationships end.
The other 12 stories in the anthology are all worth reading as well. Readers in the greater Spokane area will appreciate reading tales about a woman who becomes obsessed with a local serial killer or a story called "Neighborhood" that finds humor and beauty in a group of neighbors competing to have the best yard decorations. Of course, they will probably enjoy the rest of the stories too.