the dream she becomes the horse. Or the horse becomes her. It takes on
her form and she is lying on wet cobbles while the beasts feed on her."
Reviewed by Angela Readman
book isn’t a cozy read; it’s not supposed to be. The stories inhabit
motel rooms, seedy boarding houses and dirty apartments that smell of
semen, blood and grease. They serve portions of the psyche of rapists,
killers, sadomasochists and pregnant girls dressed in school uniforms.
It’s not a happy meal; it shouldn’t be.
The true contemporary gothic is not the world of TV vampires flashing
fangs, falling in love and becoming bloody sex symbols, it's grittier
than that. It isn’t pretty. The Bride Stripped Bare
doesn’t tug the heart strings, but goes for the gut. The reader is not
sitting comfortably, yet keeps reading. The undeniable skill of
Kendall’s writing must be given credit for this. The writer nails a
character, paints a picture and is undeniably a master of plot.
The subjects of the stories vary, as do their length. Some are no more than two pages, others are longer. Eat Me, Eat Me
is a dark twist on Red Riding Hood, but on the whole the collection
doesn’t occupy the realm of fairy tale. It is more Chuck Palahniuk than
Angela Carter, but grimier. One story, 51 Weeks, is about a group of people who meet in a warehouse to fulfil their dark urges;
helped a woman who went by the name of Rose (a woman by any other
name…) She wanted to live out her rape fantasy. She lived a few hundred
miles from me and I offered my services. We made plans. As she walked
jauntily through the park near her four-bed, two-car home, I jumped
her. I ripped and kicked and tore my way between her legs. Fucked her,
pissed on her bloody face, kicked her a couple more times in the ribs
and fled. It didn’t fulfil any of my desires. I hope it filled hers.
chilling as such scenes are, the impact of Kendall’s stories doesn’t
lie in the purely physical (though those who enjoy such scenes will not
be disappointed), but in engaging with zeitgeist. One of the things
that most disturbs in 51 Weeks
is the hint of society behind it. The woman with a four-bed, two-car
house (a neatly hyphened professional life) somehow cannot find enough
in what modern life offers to keep her from the dark side of her
nature. The members of the collective are "teachers, officials,
artists, and nurses, in blue and white collars," all looking, and
engaged in, destruction. Kendal creates an underbelly to our familiar
world and holds it up to our eyes.
A recurring theme in the collection is birth. Stories like Axis, Birth Control, The Bride Stripped Bare and The Seedy Underbelly
feature women in states of transformation. A woman vomits a creature of
nuts and bolts, another mother waits for her husband to return, with
gruesome consequences. The female body does not create comfort, but,
like the early films of David Cronenburg, gives birth to worrying
manifestations of a disturbed psyche. The most interesting story on
this theme, for me, is This is not Kansas.
Pregnant post-teen girls and women live in a brothel, carrying babies
that feel like an extension of their selves, a commodity. The writing
conveys the hard edge of the characters, and an underlying
of this caliber was a high for me in a collection that engages with the
lowest levels of humanity. At times reading I felt like a dirty voyeur.
I’m supposed to. Kendall toys with the spectacle of the body and
showmanship. My favourite story in the book, Penny Whistle, handles this theme with real flair;
or 'baby'. Or, 'floozy' - a word my grandmother might have christened
me. I am a landscape. I am damp, stretched over rivers and valleys in
this month, stepping into the third tri, my belly the only evidence of
an import. The girl in the mirror is sixteen, still pert, swollen,
elastic and taut. In truth, I feel older. I am growing outwards. Did I
even stop growing upwards yet?"
Yet, beyond the glitter and the horror, Penny Whistle
touches on the sad psychology beyond the spectacle. There is a
surprising tenderness behind the cruel and sadomasochistic. I felt for
the people there;
been a glamorous girl. Been the envy of the little girls with stars in
their eyes. Been the bird gliding through the air, feathers on my rump
and in my cap, born to catch the swing in the crook of a knee, an
outstretched hand, a muscley thigh.
story is the pearl in the collection for me. Though I’m not sure I
enjoyed every story in the collection, and if enjoyed is the right word
to describe the stories I admired and was fascinated by, Kendall is
irrefutably a powerful writer. In the same way I couldn’t eat liver,
followed by pate, I couldn’t read the book in one sitting, there was
just too much meat, but I’m glad I read it. Buyer beware, The Bride Stripped Bare
isn’t for those who are easily disturbed. Don’t buy it for your mother,
don’t buy it for your vicar. Buy it for that guy you know who has kind
of a dark side, or that slightly scary sort of intense girl in the
corner. I guarantee they won’t be disappointed.
clowns make me laugh…And now as a twenty year old woman they come round
to my trailer in the dead of night, a response to my weeping, and
entertain me with their band of miniature instruments. A tiny toy
plastic piano, a broken banjo and penny whistles. Sometimes I sing with
|Angela Readman was commended in The
Arvon International Poetry Competition. She secretly loves short
stories. Her stories have won Inkspill magazine’s competition and
appeared in Pank, Metazen, Burner, Southword, Crannog, Fractured West,
and Pygmy Giant.