Book Review: We Mostly Come Out at Night edited by Rob Costello

We Mostly Come Out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures
Rob Costello, ed.
Hardcover / Ebook
ISBN: 9780762483198
Running Press Teens, May 21, 2024, 384 pgs

Back in 2020, Patrice Caldwell edited A Phoenix First Must Burn; before that came Nisi Shawl’s New Suns in 2019, and Grace Dillon’s Walking the Clouds in 2012. Even before these, Sheree Renée Thomas had Dark Matter in 2000. Each sought to highlight the kinds of voices that were marginalized, underrepresented, and misrepresented in mainstream genre fiction. Now there are far more of these anthologies, showcasing a strong range of storytellers and demographics, such as Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.; Magic Has No Borders: A Collection of Magical South Asian Tales edited by Sona Charaipotra and Samira Ahmed; and Africa Risen, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight.

But if you go to a bookstore or browse publisher catalogs, you will see that despite there being more inclusivity than twenty years ago, marginalization and misrepresentation are still ongoing issues. Moreover, the US is engaged in a literary civil war, where conservatives want to eliminate the possibility of meaningful inclusivity, utilizing censorship (book bans) as a weapon against Black authors and other authors of color, queer authors, trans authors, and more. For these reasons, I still seek out and am delighted to find new anthologies like We Mostly Come Out At Night, wherein queer people of various kinds can find stories that reflect their experiences. It’s an excellent book which offers fifteen original stories by a diverse set of authors, all of them skilled storytellers. I’ll highlight a few pieces as examples to whet your appetite!

“Bastian and the Beast” by Jonathan Lenore Kastin opens the book. In a fairly elegant writing style, the author sets the stage for this retelling, wherein a shaken father comes home with chests of gold, stating that the wealthy “Beast” wants “the youngest,” which in this case is seventeen-year-old Bastian. For his part, Bastian is actually curious, though sharp readers won’t miss the clever juxtapositions—a terrified father; excited brothers, too eager to be rid of their younger sibling for some gold. Kastin expertly lines immersive story with background details, letting the reader enjoy the setting, world, and mood while also developing a richer narrative. Kastin’s prose brilliantly embodies fairy tale narrative, and lures us into Bastian’s past, particularly with his mother, who tried—sometimes violently—to force Bastian to pretend to be a girl, never accepting that he is a boy. At the same time, it’s clear that the alluring “Beast” has his own issues with being seen, both with how others see him as well as how he sees himself. He poses no threat to Bastian, though, which is clear to Bastian from the moment they meet.

In fact, the heart of the matter here is really about how we see ourselves, particularly the impact that abuse and prejudice can have on one’s own self-image. It’s also about the need to find others who really see you. The core of the story may be swathed in a steamy fairy tale romance, but the central message is crucial: even if you are surrounded by jerks, there are others out in the world who will truly see you.

H.E. Edgmon lays the foundation of “Sons of Gods and Daughters of Humans” with a fair amount of well-written exposition. It works because it’s also grounded in character interest, and because there is a continual sense of a story in motion. We learn that Ana is an angel, one of many sent to participate in the Apocalypse, but Ana has fallen in love with a human named Noah. Worse than this—especially in the eyes of the Father—Noah is pregnant. But it was the very kindness of the people Ana met after their initial incarnation which made their feelings about humans change from “yes, let’s rip up this world!” to “wait . . . everyone? Even this adorable Noah guy?” At the outset of the narrative Edgmon also gives us a lot of juicy subtext about gender, the cruelty of religious dogma, community, and more, which adds to the enjoyment of the read. As the story shifts away from exposition, things become tense and layered and beautiful, despite the heavy topic at the heart of it all: do we need to abort this child. Ana and Noah have to navigate their relationship, that central question, and the elements of the Apocalypse, which includes demons and angels who might want to destroy them. At the heart of it all is an examination of truth, of belief, and the question: who are the actual monsters?

In “The Freedom of Feathers and Fur” by David Bowles a young Basque man named Lope has joined a Spanish expedition to subjugate territory in the “New World,” mainly so that he can find his brother Mikel and hurt him, as Mikel had wounded Lope before. From the beginning the story is told in a compelling voice. Lope contemplates his “depraved” sexual urges, as well as the terrible nature of conquest itself. Being Basque, he has experienced being the subject of conquest. But his anger at Mikel drives him, so he plays along. His sexuality isn’t the only thing he is denying; the clues are there from the beginning, and genre readers will easily guess at what’s going on, even before Lope meets an alluring young man named Ayim who tells him directly what he is. But the story is really about the journey of acceptance, as well as the ways that identity can be complex. In this journey, there is also the need to contend with the conquest of personality: the way one group of people will (o)press upon another their specific cultural norms, their beliefs, their ideas of what is “moral.” For Lope, this is the Catholics and Castillians, the people who taught him to despise his sexuality and his animal nature and more, and to supplant these aspects of himself with their versions of being “good”. The story brilliantly ties together the violence of physical conquest with the deeply rooted violence/conquest of conversion. Along the way, things get bloody. But things have always been bloody, whether Lope wanted to admit it or not. Lope’s journey is thought provoking, but it ends up being simply delightful, and despite pain and misery and the terrible things people do to each other, there is also wonder, and wonderful people. Ultimately, the journey is a joyful one.

“Other Fish” is a standout among standouts for me. With a few opening paragraphs author Alexandra Villasante digs into colorism, shifts in culture over time, systemic misogyny, and more. These lines establish history via lineage, but careful readers will delight in the promises the opening offers. A few lines more and somehow Villasante has established a character that readers can immediately like. Yes, this is a sea witch story—kind of—but the way Villasante opens the narrative, it could be aliens or cowgirls or nearly anything and I’d want to keep reading. Villasante also pulls you in with the sensory: the hot and cold, the visual; plus, the emotional touches, the stress of a character trying to do something important. Just when you think this is good the story switches tense, mood, scene, and like magic it works fantastically. Villasante has a wonderful voice, and paints a lovely scene of best friends, and a moment where that friendship just might slip into something else. It’s good fun and great storytelling. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes absorbing and funny, well-paced and intriguing, rich in subtext, all while still being utterly readable. Honestly, I love everything about this entry. I even, quite literally, laughed and cried, and what more could anyone ask a story to give them?

After each story is a “monster reflection” where the author shares something about themselves and being or feeling monstrous. These notes add depth and value to the stories, recontextualizing them. For some (like “Other Fish”) it makes the tale even more beautiful.

If you aren’t part of some marginalized group, you can still enjoy this book. Costello has gathered a great set of writers. If you are queer and have that sharp sense of Otherness, whether because you were the only Brown kid at your school or you just didn’t know anyone who saw gender the way you did or any number of other things, you’ll find stories written for you. In We Mostly Come Out At Night you’ll find kinship, joy, your experiences and fantasies finally coming to life in stories. And perhaps better than that, you’ll feel a sense of community and belonging.

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