THE DOLL'S ALPHABET by Camilla  Grudova


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Short stories that combine steampunk imagery with absurdist fantasy to explore gender roles.

In her debut collection, Grudova borrows whirling gears from steampunk fantasy and clicking carapaces from horror, but these slender stories lack the robust plot conventions of the more popular genres they draw from, belonging instead in the genre of literary fiction. The stories’ principal emotion is melancholy disgust, often tinged with longing and dread. Grudova name-checks Hans Christian Andersen, Isak Dinesen, and Ovid; her characters metamorphose into wolves, insects, machines. “I feel part wrought iron, part human and, I won’t lie, part vermin,” says the narrator of “Notes from a Spider,” but that could be a line from almost any of these stories. In the opening story, “Unstitching,” first one woman and then another finds a way to “unstitch” herself, letting her clothes, skin, and hair fall away: “She did not so much resemble a sewing machine as she was the ideal form on which a sewing machine was based. The closest thing she resembled in nature was an ant.” The men who try to do the same, however, end up "wounded and disappointed. They had no ‘true, secret’ selves inside, only what was taught and known.” The most successful of the stories are the ones that most explicitly address gender roles and women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy. In “Waxy,” women work in factories to support their Men, who go to school (forbidden to women) and study for Exams; to avoid the expense of contraception or raising children, many Men prefer to have sex with girls who have not yet begun to menstruate. In “The Moth Emporium,” the narrator looks at her husband differently after he allows an artist to install sculptures depicting a rape and murder in their home, which is also a costume shop.

The effect of the absurd, unnatural, cruel, and unfair social rules in these stories is to cast light on how absurd, unnatural, cruel, and unfair the rules of contemporary society can be.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-56689-490-6
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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