The Quivering Fan is a collection of short stories which blend philosophical reflections on the interconnectedness of love, desire and art with spirited characters whose openness and curiosity bring these themes to life.
Ann Cotten’s writing moves with hypnotic ease between lighthearted topics and the consideration of fundamental questions about how we inhabit the world. Her whirlwind creativity encompasses music, sex and artistic ambition, via reflections on embarrassment and the role of art in people’s lives. Along the way she pauses to consider how someone’s hair moves in the wind, to muse about the ways in which conservative societies regulate the gaze, to look at garden gates and to scrutinise the place of cats in the history of art. Cotten generates new metaphors by the bucketful which resonate with the reader long after each story has come to an end.
Almost every story in The Quivering Fan is a love story of sorts, but there is nothing conventional about them. The seventeen short stories share the same young female narrator who features alternately as the desirer, the object of desire or the one refusing the pull of desire.
The story with which the volume opens, ‘The Bored Combo’, demonstrates Cotten’s immense creative energy: the narrator is listening to music, while working in a library and thinking about music and what makes people work and work well. She finds a way of comparing the way music moves you, whether you want it or not, with the way a man or woman moves you, whether you want it or not. Reflections on the affective power of music are interwoven throughout the book.
Cotten portrays desire as the single most driving, elusive and vexing experience in our lives. Each story has its own take on desire, narrating a single transitory moment in the narrator’s relationship with another man or woman. In ‘The Green Peacock’ two women compare notes on how they were attracted to men that they had either no good reason to like or felt compelled to like against their better judgment. In ‘Death’s Stupid Brother’ the narrator unexpectedly embarks upon a lesbian one-night stand while simultaneously investigating her philosophy of love. Ann Cotten’s latest work is intelligent and unusual, achieving the feat of being genuinely daring without the need to shock.