“Can I exist if I’m only in relation to myself?”
We Had No Rules is the debut short story collection from non-binary author Corinne Manning, and I’m completely obsessed with it.
I could immediately tell We Had No Rules was something special, a collection of stories I’d never want to end. By the end of the third story, I’d already ordered a paperback copy for my collection. By the seventh, I was scared to keep reading, worried I’d binge the rest of the stories in one go. In fact, I intentionally avoided finishing it for weeks because I wasn’t ready for it to be over, but, as I received an advance copy for review, I could only prolong the inevitable for so long.
There are eleven stories in all, each fully realized and unique and messy and irreverent. Manning forces the reader to reckon with queer people as we really are – flawed, multifaceted human beings – by exploring some of humanity’s darker impulses, filtered through the perspectives of queer characters with varying LGBTQIA+ identities. The results are as unsettling as they are brilliant.
One Goodreads reviewer, Erik, summed things up perfectly: “Each story in We Had No Rules pries apart the tension that lies at the heart of queerness: in being who I am do I become like everyone else or stand out? What is the right answer?”
If I had to choose my favorite story (please don’t make me), I’d be hard pressed to decide between two of the more humorous offerings: Gay Tale and Ninety Days.
Gay Tale begins “Oh, fuck it. I’m writing lesbian fiction. I know I’d do better to write gay fiction, or in some academic circles, queer fiction. How many people, I wonder, have stopped reading already?” and made me laugh aloud multiple times.
Ninety Days is told from the perspective of a queer femme, and (as a femme myself) I found many of the character’s observations and sentiments to be highly relatable: “As someone assigned female at birth who presents as femme I have to make a series of conscious decisions to be visible as queer, and I still have to come out, multiple times a day.”
I could go on, but I’d rather allow Manning’s prose to speak for itself. I highly recommend checking out We Had No Rules, especially for queer readers. It was refreshing to see the complexities of modern queerness explored so unflinchingly. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important one.
“A defiant, beautifully realized story collection about the messy complications of contemporary queer life.
A young teenager runs from her family’s conservative home to her sister’s NY apartment to learn a very different set of rules. A woman grieves the loss of a sister, a “gay divorce,” and the pain of unacknowledged abuse with the help of a lone wallaby on a farm in Washington State. A professor of women’s and gender studies revels in academic and sexual power but risks losing custody of the family dog.
In Corinne Manning’s stunning debut story collection, a cast of queer characters explore the choice of assimilation over rebellion. In this historical moment that’s hyperaware of and desperate to define even the slowest of continental shifts, when commitment succumbs to the logic of capitalism and nobody knows what to call each other or themselves – Gay? Lesbian? Queer? Partners? Dad? – who are we? And if we don’t know who we are, what exactly can we offer each other?
Spanning the years 1992 to 2019, and moving from New York to North Carolina to Seattle, the eleven first-person stories in We Had No Rules feature characters who feel the promise of a radically reimagined world but face complicity instead.”
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We Had No Rules At A Glance:
Genre: Short Story Collection, LGBTQ+ Fiction
LGBTQ+ Rep? Yes! So much queer rep!
Content Warnings (CWs): Unfortunately, I was so engrossed in these stories that I forgot to keep a running list of CWs for this one. It definitely tackles some heavy, potentially triggering subjects, so read with care!
ARC Note: Thank you to Arsenal Pulp Press and Edelweiss for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.