Behind the Yellow Wallpaper: New Tales of Madness.
Ed. Rose Yndigoyen.
New Lit Salon Press, 2014.
Review by Sarah-Jean Krahn, Managing Editor, don’t die press
This quirky, ultra-readable collection, riffing off the quintessential madness fiction by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, opens with a piece that alludes to madness as an act of defiance for women. There is something appealing about madness when it means you tear your body out of the current realm and present it to The Gaze as unintelligible. Each remaining story tampers with this motif via some unique twist that confuses the spectrum of feeling, from insidious numbness in “The Safety Pin Patient Test” to traumatic intensity in “The Color of Nothing.”
When emotional ferocity seizes women consumed by husband or children, at first glance some feminist readers may be turned off. However, with careful consideration we can see that, for the most part, this is the choice that has been presented to the characters as most meaningful. For example, in “Waiting for Jordan,” the single sentence “This is all her fault” reveals the double-bind of women locked into a nuclear family life, yet who themselves earn the blame for apparently locking men into the same patriarchal ultimatum. Meanwhile, the protagonist’s dreams of the 72 virgins calling to her hint at an unfulfilled queer curiosity that won’t allow the reader satisfaction with the suggestion that she is irreparably depressed at being separated from her husband on military tour.
The stories that recreate women characters responsible for murder reveal a frantic need in the feminist imagination to destroy the smelted, inflexible and punishing casts of patriarchal rule. Still, some readers may find these, like some of the photographs depicting the bloody saturation of madness, disturbing. The allure of the photographs is that they have been designed to match each story, and so reflect the desperation, obsession, downfall; the grit, ingenuity, sincerity of the characters. So, keep reading, and notice the overlay of trip wires and drone strikes that drive the characters to their betrayal or brutality. The later story “Thread,” while starring a character of innocence in action but acumen in human agony, unwinds these stealthy tricks of the patriarchy and lays them bare for reckoning.
The collection would not be complete without those pieces which implicate, as Charlotte Perkins Gilman does, the noose that madness itself can be when it is fastened to women by men. Men who doctor, men who mind-doctor, men who dictate women’s futures; men who abuse, men who slut-shame, men who extol women’s obedience—they are the origins of true madness, and the patriarchy benefits when women comply with lobotomized tranquility. In “Behind the Yellow Wallpaper,” women find comfort in a madness all their own when the straitjacket of patriarchy fails to conform to their bodies. Madness is a homecoming, a relief, a joy, as the characters alter not their bodies but the time-space around them to provide habitat that better suits their needs.
This Throwback Thursday brought to you by Freesia McKee
S/tick, Issue 1.4
this guy brought a poem
to our workshop
about being a man.
at the table
after the workshop,
one guy told me
to write a poem
that included the word
he knows i write
poems about women.
what else is there
do you get asked
what it feels like
to be a symbol
because to me,
you have become
i know how included i can feel
if i quote you.
is that my chair
to their table–
that is a poem
that will never be
This Throwback Thursday brought to you by Amber Hollinger
S/tick, Issue 1.2
Editor’s Note: Watch the don’t die press blog for some oldies but goodies from an earlier era of S/tick!
by Megan Harris
My mother is bone white and black
daughter born from cocaine breath
came out on the cusp of winter.
A wispy gasp and darkened heart
skin is paper stretched over bone
white sheet, dark pen, dark red.
Mother warns daughter to not love death
to not long to feel his dark eyes
fall upon her breasts.
Daughter is of winter locking,
a chest begging to be opened to light,
fill the lungs with dirt and breathe life.
Mother is bone white and black,
her burning head stares down
Daughter turns away again – frozen.
Excerpt of a poem by Anastasia Walker
They beat you under the Texas sun in
A goddamn parking lot, one two four
Eight ten kicking punching howling
Filming so they could pretend
It was everyone and not just them
Who were unmanned
By a beauty that held
A mirror to their squalid smallness
This excerpt by Katherine Davis will appear in S/tick’s upcoming Issue 4.3!
Against other women, I was made to stand naked as an
Anatomical model, while doctors lectured bunches of aspiring
Residents, all generalizations based on the study of the patriarchal.
Told repeatedly my feelings were impossible, I burrowed under
My skin, bathed in oxygenated blood, vital energy, constructed
An interior palace until I was old and learned and far away
Excerpt by Naomi Borkent. Read the rest in Issue 4.3 — coming soon!
Maybe you would’ve preferred
A woman with soft legs
That can’t stand up for themselves.
Not like mine, strong,
Able to kick, able to run.
Then I remember that they did not stand like trees
Excerpt by Colleen Donnelly — read more in Issue 4.3, coming soon!
Felicia momentarily pulled her glasses down, seeming to stare dutifully, sympathetically, peering into Ms. Levine’s heart. She made her voice waver just a tad, as she lowered her tone to utter the always terrifying edict, “You have cancer.” She could hear the whistle as Ms. Harding gulped back air. “Colorectal cancer. Stage III. I’m sorry to say the prognosis is not good.”
She watched Ms. Levine intently as she delivered the sentence. Ms. Levine seemed to shrink in the chair, head dropping, shoulders caving, as she tried to draw herself into a protective ball. Felicia held her hand out across the desk, Ms. Levine took it. Felicia squeezed and then gently stroked it – limited tactile contact indicating compassion. The desk was the court they’d play across. Sitting in adjacent chairs or together on a couch next to the fountain would invite soulful pats, perhaps a reaffirming hug or two that could complicate the negotiations. Collaboration was a necessary tightly-controlled, staged illusion.
Ms. Levine withdrew her hand, took a moment to compose and draw herself more upright once again and asked, “And what exactly are my options?”
Excerpt by Ann Tweedy
I feel sad for those erased—even the parts
erased–so that the story will stand up
like a building made of blocks
and not fall, so that it can be simple—right
outweighing wrong, good towering over
bad—and rise above the confusion that mires us.
Think of Anna Mae Aquash or Assia Weevil.
Anna Mae, an AIM activist, gunned down by AIM women and men during Wounded Knee
because she was so strong and true she looked impossible—
an informant because she was arrested and inexplicably released,
because a male FBI agent had infiltrated earlier
and gotten away with it. A group of AIM women drove her away
from the Pine Ridge house she was staying at.
10 days later—February—found by a rancher
with a bullet in her eye socket. You can watch the documentary about her lover—
A Good Day to Die—and never hear word of her. Or go to the museum
of AIM portraits in Minneapolis and not see her.
Fall 2019’s Issue 4.3 of S/tick is just around the corner! While waiting, please enjoy this excerpt of Linda M. Crate’s “women of today”:
you don’t have enough strength to silence us
we refuse to be quiet anymore—
once we remembered our voices
it was over for you,
and we will sing the song of sirens and banshees
invite every angry werewolf and vampire
over for dinner
watch as your glass ceilings are smashed to bits;
because we are the daughters of warriors