Now that I’ve read the first story in this collection and I can see that this is going to be a remarkable reading experience: challenging, engrossing and perhaps a little unnerving.
I can also see that I need to review it one story at a time. So here’s my review of the first story (about thirty-five pages long).
The Husband Stitch
“The Husband Stitch” showed me that stories are dangerous. Its muscular form squirms in my imagination’s grasp, sleek and slick but with razor-sharp edges that slice and make me gasp with surprise.
This is a story filled with other stories, stories that you will half-recognise and half be surprised by. Stories that make you ask yourself what it tells us about the world that we all know these stories? Are they lessons? Warnings? Truths? Myths? Desires? Whatever they are, they persist and they have power.
At one point the teller of the tale (who never shares her name and who says that she has been telling stories all her life, says:
“When you think about it, stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. Each is borne from the clouds separate, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart.”
Her stories are all about women and the things that happen to them, few of them good and they power her own story, which is a story and not a documentary and therefore holds meaning but does not always release it easily.
She is a passionate woman, who chooses her boy at a party at the age of seventeen and then gives herself to him and teaches him how to use what he’s been given. She becomes first a lover, then a bride (“Brides”, she tells us, “never fare well in stories. Stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle.”), then a wife and a mother.
Years pass and the only thing she withholds from her husband is the right to touch the green ribbon that is always tied around her throat.
The ribbon is the heart of this story. You’ll have to decide for yourself what it means. I believe it represents identity. The part of her that makes her who she is. The part that she cannot be without. Yet, in this story, only women have ribbons.
If the story has a moral (as opposed to having many or even a different one depending on who reads it) then I think it is about the inevitable destruction wrought by husbands on wives. I think the “Husband Stitch” of the title is an extra stitch that husbands ask the doctor to add when sewing up an episiotomy wound, to make the vagina tighter, almost virginal. This selfish re-shaping speaks to male arrogance and a refusal to accept their wives in their true forms.
In the story, her refusal to let him touch her ribbon becomes a source of strife:
“A wife,” he says, “should have no secrets from her husband.”
“I don’t have any secrets,” I tell him.
“The ribbon is not a secret; it’s just mine.” “
Were you born with it? Why your throat? Why is it green?”
I do not answer.
Her husband, she tells us, “…is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep dis-service to him. And yet-“
That “And yet?” is where this story and all the stories within it, take us. It is a place both mysterious and sadly familiar. It is how things are.