A review of No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book Edited by Cherry Potts

Reviewed by Jennifer Stephenson-Steele

No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book:
An anthology of Spiderlit for Arachne’s Eighth Anniversary
Edited by Cherry Potts
Arachne Press
Paperback : 146 pages, ISBN-13 : 978-1909208933, August 8, 2020

As No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book arises out of a celebration of Arachne Press’ eighth anniversary, the book itself is a testament to spider-kind, honoring the beauty, diversity, complexity and adaptability of spiders. The short anthology explores spiders and their presence in the human psyche. Many of the poems and short stories glitter with feminist undertones, while others unravel and explore the web metaphor, still others smack of contrarianism. These themes are inextricably wrapped up in the hidden corners of our minds that are occupied by spiders.

Perhaps it is the conception of this anthology which lends itself so well to a feminist bent (after all, Arachne Press was named for Lady Hale’s spider brooch), or perhaps it is the association with spiders and women, from Shelob to Charlotte, that steer the mind toward the feminist themes that arise. Many of the spiders, and spider-like characters, are female. They explore the many sides of being female—strong, elegant, competent and fierce; these arachnid ladies represent the feminine side with class and grace. This concept is beautifully captured in Stella Wulf’s poem, “Femme Fatales.”

There is an undeniable undercurrent of connectedness throughout these pieces as well. Some of the authors took their metaphors literally, exploring the idea of the web as an object that entraps and secures, but others adopted a more flexible approach. The short story, “Revenge, One JSTOR Article at a Time,” infuses the Arachne myth and the internet to create an entertaining and thought provoking melding of the ancient and the modern, the foundations of western culture, and a projection of where humanity is headed.

One cannot explore spider lore without delving into the deep dark corners of loneliness, solitude and reclusively. As spiders so often are solitary creatures, existing off what sustenance passers-by might offer, they lend themselves naturally to these themes. Patty Tomsky’s, “Spider Circus” deftly toes the line many introverts must navigate. When does solitude morph into loneliness? When should we emerge into the light, and when should we recede back into our safe, dark dwellings? Phoebe Demeger’s, “Clearing Out the Shed,” tackles the issue of loneliness from a different point of view—loss. An adult child cleans out her parent’s shed right before a new family moves in and must decide if it is right to clean out the cobwebs. Demeger writes poignantly about the ethical dilemma: “In every crevice, cobwebs. An empty corner becomes a web, sustains a life, then gives itself back to dust…How many eyes were watching as first my father, then my mother clicked shut the door behind them for the last time?”

Though all of the selections are highly original and innovative in their own ways, they did bring to mind a variety of similar readings. Stories like J.A. Hopper’s “Anansi and the Monkey’s Tale” recall Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in that the story borrows from a well-known myth and molds it into a new, imaginative narrative, all while maintaining the sense of history and legendary importance that origin myths carry. On the other side of the spectrum, A. Katherine Black’s short story, “Even People Who’d Been Accidentally Turned into Giant Murderous Mutant Spiders,” and Carolyn Robertson’s “Sicarius” glow with a super-hero adjacent storylines. Mutants and metamorphoses take center stage to give the audience the creepy crawlies.

Editor Cherry Potts created a masterful work of art with this anthology, intricately combining poetry, short stories and flash fiction that spans a variety of themes. In all of the works, the writing is accessible, yet beautiful. The otherworldliness of spiders brings about bewitching language in almost all of the entries. This book is also a page-turner, easily devoured in one sitting! The style varies, as is to be expected when there are this many authors in one project, but there is a story or poem for every kind of person, from funny to reflective, introspective to irreverent. All of these talented writers were at one moment clever, the next thought provoking and at other times engrossing with their stunning manipulation of language and discerning abilities to explore the many facets of spiders and their significance in the human imagination.

About the reviewer: Jennifer Stephenson-Steele is a high school language arts teacher in Denver Colorado and a fiction writer, poet and journalist. She has had work published in Foothills Literary Journal and in The Colorado Sun. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction at the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.stephenson.1610