|Art by Kevron2001 / Fotolia|
“Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women” by Theodore McCombs (5261 words)
No Spoilers: In an alternate past, women have been developed some sort of defense against the violence men might inflict on them. Edith, the wife of a high-ranking cop, is faced with trying to push for power in some ways while wrestling with fear, doubt, and the legacy of harm. The piece is at turns unsettling and strange, and the quasi-historical nature of it requires readers to confront the legacy of misogyny and misogynist violence at the heart of not just America, but beyond. And the ending is just uncertain enough to be incredibly ripe with creepiness and sinking dread.
Keywords: Capital Punishment, Justice, Violence, Adaptation, Alt-history
Review: This story deals a lot with violence and especially violence against women. It’s a fascinating exploration of a world and a justice system that’s trying to preserve its misogyny by (almost counter-productively) making any attempted murder of a woman a capital offense. On the one hand, this means that many more men are held accountable for their actions than would be otherwise, when this sort of violence would leave only women’s corpses as witnesses. But there’s something about the way that these women live, the way they survive, that means that men decide they must punish men who would attack a woman. Again, not because the system isn’t deeply misogynist, but for the very reason that it is. It must seek to put itself between these violent men and the women who are not leaning on their own unkillability. And what happens, with Edith and her situation, seems like a sort of tipping point, where she is suddenly working for a system that doesn’t want to give her power, that wants only to use her to keep other women “in their place” and not above the punishment of men. It’s an uncomfortable read that really gets into the complexity of violence and crime and oppression, and I love the creeping feel of, and especially with the ending, which captures this lovely horror, this dread that Edith has done something that has birthed a new kind of horror into the world. It’s striking and sinking and just a great read that you should go check out!
“Seven Steps to Beauty for a Girl Named Avarice” by Emily B. Cataneo (3225 words)
No Spoilers: A young girl wants to be beautiful, to stand out, to have the life she feels she should want, full of luxury and adoration. When it doesn’t happen “naturally,” she decides to take it for herself by seeking out some magical aid. Dark and powerful, the story swirls around how beauty is treated and perceived, and what power is open to women who would reach out and take it for themselves.
Keywords: Witches, Beauty, Magic, Power, Mentors
Review: The main character of the story doesn’t begin life as Avarice, but everything about the life she was born into, that she grew up with, doesn’t suit her. She isn’t pursued, isn’t seen as special or beautiful, and so she comes to crave these things. And yet the older she gets the more this craving is complicated by her nature, by the reality of what she really wants, which isn’t really to be admired and owned. Instead, what she wants seems to be respect and recognition, something she mistakes as being given to beautiful women. When she goes to learn from Lilé Mar, though, a witch and the daughter of a witch, she begins to see that being beautiful doesn’t really mean the same as being respected or valued as anything more than an object. What follows is a wonderful and affirming sequence where Avarice finds the value in herself and refuses to look outside for valuation. Instead, she decides to take a sort of beauty that doesn’t reflect in a mirror, a beauty that is wild and powerful and that she can hold in her hands, that she can revel in without needing to share it or give it away to a man who will not truly appreciate it. It’s a stirring story about a relationship and magic between two women who refuse to play by the rules, who refuse to accept the values they are told to, and who feel a rush of freedom at running through the darkness without fear. A wonderful read!