365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

The Other Place by Mary Gaitskill

with one comment

It isn’t often I get annoyed a story exists – sure many, many stories are not very good, but that’s ok, I don’t have to read them, and while sometimes I might be annoyed I spent time reading them, I rarely want them erased from existence.

“The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill is one I’d like to have erased. It is a deliberately creepy story of a middle-aged man who fantasizes about hurting women and sees the signs of the same in his son.

Mostly, though, he draws pictures of men holding guns. Or men hanging from nooses. Or men cutting up other men with chainsaws—in these pictures there are no faces, just figures holding chainsaws and figures being cut in two, with blood spraying out.

My wife, Marla, says that this is fine, as long as we balance it out with other things—family dinners, discussions of current events, sports, exposure to art and nature. But I don’t know. Douglas and I were sitting together in the living room last week, half watching the TV and checking e-mail, when an advertisement for a movie flashed across the screen: it was called “Captivity” and the ad showed a terrified blond girl in a cage, a tear running down her face. Doug didn’t speak or move. But I could feel his fascination, the suddenly deepening quality of it. And I don’t doubt that he could feel mine. We sat there and felt it together.

He’s a loathesome sociopathic character who hides behind a façade of normalcy, but by conveying the story as his inner monologue we know how far from normal he is.

And that’s where my problem lies with the story. It focuses on the sensational, the outlier, the guy who is so fucked up that allows society to ignore the violence against women that’s committed every day by normal guys. (I think Gaitskill intended to do the opposite – hint at the darkness that lies in all of us but this guy is too far off the map of normalcy for that to work.)

This is something we see all the time in real life – the most recent example being the house bill (H.R. 3) which attemped to redefine what qualified for rape only into acts which involved violence or the threat of violence. Like the myth that most murders are committed by strangers, there are people who like the delusion of believing real rapes are committed by the man in the ski-mask hiding in the bushes with a gun and not by the nice fellow you went on a date with and asked in to have coffee or a drink and didn’t take no for an answer.

I don’t need to have it reinforced in fiction.

(sorry, been swamped at work – I hope in a week posting will become more regular again.)

Written by Chance

March 13, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Day 27: An Arranged Marriage by Nell Freudenberger

with 2 comments

I used to work with a guy who liked to read mail-order bride catalogues and it was ever so creepy. Oh let’s face it, he was one of the creepiest guys I ever worked with. And at some point I read this super creepy article in Harper’s.

This is a mail order bride story told from the bride’s point of view.

Amina had sworn Sharmila to secrecy on the subject of AsianEuro.com, and then they’d had a lot of fun, looking through the photos in the “male gallery.” Sharmila always chose the youngest and best-looking men; she would squeal and gasp when she came across one who was very old or very fat.

That’s about when my cultural appropriation radar activated, because really what does Freudenberger, a Harvard-educated American, know about being an Asian woman seeking a foreign marriage? I’m not qualified to comment on it either, but it made me deeply uncomfortable for a privileged American to try to unpick the other side of the mail-order bride story.

At the end of the day I found it a well-written story with fleshed out characters, and that made it all the worse. The story feels almost designed to give comfort to Westerners: to tell us that the whole thing isn’t that bad, starting right from the title.

Yeah, I think I need to be sick now. I encourage you to read the Harper’s article and not this story.

Written by Chance

October 14, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Day 4: The Dredgeman’s Revelation by Karen Russell

leave a comment »

Oh, how I wanted to like this story. Actually for much of the story, I did like it. What’s not to like about a character named Louis Thanksgiving who works on a dredge in the Florida panhandle?

But then things go horribly wrong and right about the time skin started boiling off, I just had to quit, so I will never know his revelation.

In my version he survives the disaster, meets a nice girl and has litters of children. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen in Russell’s story.

Written by Chance

September 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Day 1: Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

leave a comment »

I think almost all of us have had an unfortunate relationship – unfortunate in that we know that we should end or run before it starts. There is something wrong at the heart of it and as much as we lie to ourselves, it’s always there.

In “Birdsong” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the unfortunate relationship is with a married man. An older, successful married man who doesn’t love her but instead is fascinated (but at the same time repelled) because she doesn’t act in the ways he expects.

As she remembers their relationship, it is finally the appropriation of a joke they shared together to create a private joke with his distant wife that drives them apart. Finally she can no longer ignore that the world sees her as nothing in his life – not his driver, not the staff in the restaurants they frequent, and ultimately, not him.

And that’s when her anger bursts forth, towards him and towards all the injustices in her life, like when it is always she or the other woman who is asked to cut the birthday cake. Her anger and sadness is something she cannot contain because most of all she is angry at herself for letting herself accept the easy lies.

Written by Chance

September 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm