Sing Me Your Scars
Damien Angelica Walters
March 9, 2015
This collection of short stories is creepy, weird, heartbreaking, and lovely. It’s broken into three parts: Here, And the Now, and And Away. There is a sense of travel as you move through the parts, and I’ll be highlighting one story from each.
The titular story is a riveting, horrifying take on the Bride of Frankenstein. The story centers on a woman built of body parts, made for the pleasure of a mad scientist, but this story is written from her viewpoint. Or rather, their viewpoint. For each limb or organ harvested from a corpse carries a bit of that person’s soul, and all of the women that make up this body can communicate with each other. The main narrator is the head, but equal time is given to Lillian, the hands, or Molly, or Diana, or Therese. The worst part is they know precisely what their situation is. If one of them begins to rot, the mad doctor will cut off those parts and replace them, silencing the woman who they belong to and putting another in her place. This replaceability, the interchangeable way the doctor treats the narrator’s body, is central to the story, but the part that struck home was the women’s struggle to survive, to bear it. They try to placate the real monster because they want to live in a clear parallel to the way women may have to twist to survive an abusive partner, an untenable situation, a walk down a dark alley.
Scarred is another story focused on abuse, but this one also touches on the difficulty of passing. Violet has a strange power: when she carves a name into her skin, the person dies. She has to hide these scars, and this calls both to the beauty standard as well as the shame someone who cuts feels. This felt very true to feminise power in our culture—in order to hurt someone or protect herself, Violet has to hurt herself first. She hides her true power from her husband, and clamps a self-control born of an iron will over the temptation to hurt others. Violet had also always had to hide her self-inflicted scars from others, pretend that her stepfather didn’t mean to hurt her, or the friends and lovers that followed. Violet’s recitation to both the names of those she’s killed and her shame at being abused are chilling. The ending reinforced this, with the eerie echo of how abuse can be handed down in a family when the little girl’s assumes of Violet’s power.
In They Make of You a Monster, Walters pulls on the trappings of a fantasy story: there is magic, a king, a dungeon, and guards that whisper to the prisoners at night. The king has outlawed magic, and the protagonist, Isabel, has been imprisoned until she will agree to use her powers for the king. When she refuses, she is tortured. Isabel prays they won’t find her lover, Ayleth, and use her to force Isabel into agreement. They have twisted the magic inside Isabel already, so that she hurts instead of heals, but she still refuses to use it. The story reads as a blunt criticism of a society that forces conformity and suppression of personal expression, and noting a rumor that the king may have wished to be born female instead is a clumsy attempt to make the pitfalls of forcing people into identities that don’t fit absolutely clear. Only women hold magic in this story, although they are also capable of harm.
Overall, I really liked the book, although a story or two are weak spots in an otherwise strong collection. Walters delves into her strengths of horror, fantasy, and vivid description, and it’s well worth the time to read it.