Danika reviews Hero Worship by Rebekah Matthews


I don’t think I’ve ever had a book that was simultaneously so good and so painful to read, which is appropriate for Hero Worship. The book follows Valerie, a twenty-something who’s had a string of bad relationships and is still trying to figure herself out. In the first part of the story, she is writing letters to her ex-girlfriend, trying to deal with how much she misses her, though she’s not sure how much the girlfriend ever even liked her. Valerie’s desperate desire for love and attention was uncomfortably relateable, making me flinch sympathetically almost every other page.

Throughout Hero Worship, we get to see some of Valerie’s childhood and her previous relationships, which all show pieces of the intangible quality she keeps seeking out, what she seems to be missing in her life. She latches onto various people, alternately admitting her obsession to its object or attempting to disguise it. This felt like one of the most realistic novels I’ve ever read, which may reveal more about myself than I would like. It captures the aimless, insecure twenty-something experience.

I also just love Matthews’s writing style. It seems casual and effortless, but is able to evoke scenes and emotions with subtle details. I found myself torn between wanting to just keep reading and having to put down the book frequently because I empathized too much with Valerie. I would recommend this to anyone who’s felt like they’ve needed someone too much, or anyone looking for a short submersion in someone else’s sense of self. This is one of my favourite reads of this year.

Danika reviews Hymnal for Dirty Girls by Rebekah Matthews


This a slim (only 40 pages) collection of 6 short stories, making it a little bit hard for me to know how to review thoroughly. From the first couple sentences, I hooked on Matthews’s style. (From “Bedroom”: “Someone keeps leaving used condoms outside my apartment. When I complain about it, you say maybe it’s just the same condom I’m seeing again and again, and I say no it’s not the same condom because it shows up in different colors–yellowish, or white, or completely translucent. Once it was green.”) The tone is casual, and has almost sarcastic humor to it. The characters have varying degrees of lesbianism (yes, I’m using that as an adjective), and the stories all connect to this theme of “dirtiness”: all the characters are in places where they feel some degree of disgust with their own lives.

Each story is what my partner likes to call a “window” story: a quick peek at someone’s life, a scene that you came into partway through and leave before there’s any neat conclusion. Each story was intriguing, but I didn’t really feel satisfied when I got to the end of each story. I don’t think it’s a problem with the stories themselves, just that they all deal with a time where the main character is unsatisfied and they all have that film of “dirtiness” (in a physical, spiritual, and holistic sense) to them, which makes it difficult to keep leaving characters there, especially since I found them so sympathetic. The last story has a particularly off-putting ending.

I think that is perhaps an aim of the collection, though. The stories explore this concept of being “dirty”, which is especially relevant to the queer characters (because we live in a world that can still associate queer with “dirty”), and it makes total sense to emerge from that feeling uncomfortable. I felt the writing was very strong in this collection: I especially liked the second person narrative in two of the stories. It sort of reminds me of one of my favorite (sadly, non-queer) books, a short story collection called Small Crimes In an Age of Abundance by Matthew Kneale. Just like this book, the stories left me not exactly happy, but definitely in approval of the author. And just like I sought out Kneale’s novel soon after reading his stories (also great, also non-queer), I hope to see a novel from Rebekah Matthews soon! If you’re a fan of short stories and books that unsettle, I recommend this one.