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Women Up On Blocks

Mary Akers

"Like the monks who immolated themselves to protest Vietnam, she stood there and quietly died as they dismembered her"

Reviewed by Julia Bohanna

The female protagonists in this collection are prisoners in multifarious ways: trapped by the weight of marriage to errant/insensitive men, the burden of childcare, an addiction or the limitations of a disabled body. Men may not emerge from these stories commanding much respect but the women are drawn by a wise, experienced and compassionate hand. Their flaws are exposed too – characterization and voice are extremely strong elements and each neat psychological portrait holds the reader powerfully. Women on blocks, as one character tells us, refers to derelict cars in the trailer parks of America, where frustrated and ultimately failed lives go to die. Cars play quite a role in some of the stories, literal or metaphorical – apt perhaps because of their ability to facilitate escape or, in the case of one poor soul in Wild, Wild Horses, to cause accidents that alter lives permanently.

One of the stand-out stories for me is Mooncalf. I had to put the book down afterwards and savour the resonance of the tale, but also to grieve for the situation. A young woman with cerebral palsy, assumed retarded for many years, eventually has a baby of her own. The child is weak and does not thrive. The strain of taking care of his wife and helping with a difficult, crying dependant, strains her husband to breaking point. There is one particular scene – to explain it would be to reveal too much – a disturbingly claustrophobic evocation of exhaustion and the potential in all of us, when pushed to our limitations.

In Animo, Anima, Animus, a stripper caged by circumstance and the pull of her own animalistic sexuality, faces perhaps another version of herself having made different choices. Model Home shows the desperation of a wife to please and the consequences of finally facing herself, her perceived failings and inability to achieve perfection. The story was almost a dark fairytale of an abandoned princess tuned to a modern setting. Where there is sentiment it is used to show intimacy or tenderness – but it is always balanced by hard reality and consequences.

All the women in Blocks could be said to reach an epiphany of sorts. Most interesting was how Akers assisted her characters in reaching those revelations. Some were dramatic but others quieter, such as in Multicoloured Tunneled Life, with a dead pregnant fish. The use of poetic language is never in lieu of plot, meaning or dynamic prose. If I was to have one criticism, it would be that Akers needs sometimes to trust the intelligence and sensitivity or her readers and not to spell out her intent too overtly. The caged aspect of these lives was vivid enough and she is a skilful enough writer to convey her message, without telling us at times in semi-didactic terms.

Finally, The Rashomon Tree had potential as a novel: a god-fearing traditionalist copes with new hippy neighbours, during which time both parties have their beliefs battered and compromised. I look forward to seeing more from this writer.

Read a story from this collection in Literary Potpourri

A freelance writer and journalist, Julia Bohanna was shortlisted this year for The Asham Award and the Mslexia Short Story Competition. Publications include Mslexia, The Lancet, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times and the Penguin anthology, The Map of Me. She has also been placed or won several UK-based magazine competitions and is Assistant Editor of Wolfprint, a conservation magazine.

Julia's other Short Reviews: Nuala Ní Chonchúir "The Wind Across The Grass"

"Emerge: New Australian Writing"

Barry Graham "The National Virginity Pledge"


Publisher: Press 53

Publication Date: 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Mary Akers writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction and has been published in many literary journals such as Fiddlehead and Bellevue Literary review. She has also worked as a potter, art teacher, historical interpreter and is also co-founder of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology – environmental conservation a great passion.

Read an interview with Mary Akers

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Press 53


The Author's Recommended Bookseller: Powell's


Book Depository


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