Semen, blood (menstrual and regular), pussing sores, placenta, vomit, rape, murder, hamburgers. This book has a lot of classic conversation topics. Generally, I liked it. Well, I’m not sure it’s fair to use the word "like" in relation to this book because it’s about as unpleasant as it gets. But it’s elegantly gruesome. I lived in Manhattan when the Sensation
exhibit was at the Brooklyn Museum, and it was kind of the Thing to go see it, so my roommates and I went one night. hector
reminded me a lot of walking through that exhibit, but in reverse. Like, not walking through backwards (duh) because that probably wouldn’t make that much difference, but absorbing the horror in reverse.
The most memorable and disturbing work in the show to me, and (according to Wikipedia) one of the most controversial, was Myra
. brrr. I’m not sure if my memory is grossly distorting the experience, but I’m going to tell it like I remember it. I walked into an exhibition room, with maybe 20-foot-tall ceilings, and a black-and-white painting of a 1950’s blond, angry, momish woman took up the entire wall opposite me. It was kind of pretty, but a little ominous if only for being so huge and pissed off. It was a relief, though, from the other, brighter elements of the show – the dead animal halves in formaldehyde and beheaded mannequins - so I was drawn to it. As I approached the painting, I could tell that it was made of handprints – you know, like the picture of Obama made of teeny pictures of Obama? Or the one with the Olson twins made of teeny Olson twins? A mosaic. But it wasn’t until I read the placard that I understood it was horrifying. The picture was of a woman convicted of murdering children, and it was made of the handprints of a baby. Yesh, creepy.
So, aside from this book having some murder elements and some killing babies elements, the general experience of reading it was similar to viewing the Myra painting. The difference is that with the Myra painting, I saw it first from a distance, framed by other works of art, and it was inviting, even mundane. As I got closer, it became gruesome. hector
, in contrast, starts with a close-up of horror that gradually pulls back, and as I understood the perspective of the horror, it became somewhat mundane. I’m not meaning to say that the ultimate reveal and perspective of hector
is not horrifying, only that perspective is everything, and compared to the early, close-up horror, the pulled back horror was less shocking.
There is a story about Roman Polanski making Rosemary’s Baby
and shooting the scenes so that the audience was always trying to look around corners and see what was happening just outside of the camera’s perspective. That’s how I felt reading this story. I was craning my neck to look down a hall that wasn’t there and around the pages to see who was talking.
The one critique I’ll make of this story is that I think it’s more effective to start with something identifiable that draws the reader in and end with something horrifying, rather than doing the opposite. This book is basically the story of a woman prisoner, and you don’t know who she is. She is everywoman. Ultimately, when I realized who she was, when she really took on an identity, it made her treatment seem comparatively less barbaric than I originally thought it was. I apologize for saying that, because I genuinely do care about the topic of this book, but I care more about who I thought she was than about who she turns out to be. I may change my mind later, but I have given great consideration to that value judgment.
It was kind of like coming to me and tragically, frantically telling me, "THERE'S A BOMB!!!"
"Where?! Where?!" I ask you.
"Oh, whew!" But, wait. Should I be relieved about that? No, it's wrong, but there you have it. There is always a bomb in Jerusalem.
I’m trying to be cryptic because I want you to decide for yourself whether you want to read this book spoiled or unspoiled. If you want to read it spoiled, the Afterward is a statement of purpose. If you want to read it unspoiled, like I did, you’ll still get the point by the end of the story. It’s probably better to resist the Afterward because you have the “ah ha!” experience. It’s up to you, though.
Anyway, this may sound cynical, but my impression is that people are most motivated to care about this particular topic if they understand how caring benefits them, rather than through descriptions of its brutality. We’re just desensitized. Regardless of whether I’m right about that or not, this is a particularly relevant message about a particularly timely topic. And I think the words are beautiful, even if the images are intentionally disgusting. Our lovely GR author, K.I. Hope wrote it, so you should read it. It is artistic and worth your trouble. Probably, don’t read it if you’re pregnant, though.