A red throbbing sausage sits next to a pickled egg. The sausage is pretty bloody chuffed at its luck. It’s not everyday that pickled eggs are properly appreciated in a main meal plate-based context. Some people think they’re better than pickled eggs. Scoffing them in the street on the way back from the chippy. Tonguing the dry sphere of yolk after four pints of diesel oil down the Bucket of Blood (a real pub in Hayle). EAT more pickled eggs. Otherwise they won’t exist. Yeah.
Violet’s weekly adult book review looks at a short story in this instalment and it’s a subtle hand grenade. Akin to a handsome piece of man meat hiding behind some net curtains. The aim, as always, is to attempt to answer that ball boiling question: can a good book ever be as spineless as a good fuck?
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Book title: Who Do You Think You Are?
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher of this edition: Vintage
Copyright: © Alice Munro 2021
First published: 1978
Cover photo: Ernst Haas / Getty Images
THE RAUNCH REVIEW: Violet’s Verdict
Quick synopsis: Wild Swans is the short story under the microscope. It’s a extra strong mint of a story. Quick and nose bleed inducing. A woman travels to Toronto on the train by herself for the first time. Her friend gives her some advice about who to watch out for, so she doesn’t get into any trouble. And then, as the big metal shaft pulls out, a man asks if she wouldn’t mind if he sits next to her. That’s when it happens. The so-called minister fingers her without consent, whilst the train hurtles towards its destination, as she stares out of the fucking dirty window.
Title: It’s an interesting choice. Swans are wild, it goes without saying, so why isn’t it just called swans? A short story makes every word count, right. It’s an exercise in economy. Wasted words isn’t a thing, especially by a Nobel Prize winning master of the short story. So, wild must be necessary. Swans are magnificent birds. Words that come to mind when I think about swans: the heart shapes that they do with their necks, white, aggressive, virginal, massive wing span, mate for life (i.e. they don’t shag around).
Cover image: Love a wood panelled room. Not a particularly memorable cover image. More or less everything else would have been better.
Best sentence/s in the book:
He drove the old hearse all over the country, looking for women.
She had a considerable longing to be somebody’s object. Pounded, pleasured, reduced, exhausted.
The hand began, over the next several miles, the most delicate, the most timid, pressures and investigations. Not asleep. Or if he was, his hand wasn’t.
Spongy tissues, inflamed membranes, tormented nerve-ends, shameful smells; humiliation.
His hand, that she wouldn’t ever have wanted to hold, that she wouldn’t have squeezed back, his stubborn patient hand was able, after all, to get the ferns to rustle and the streams to flow, to waken a sly luxuriance.
A stranger’s hand, or root vegetables or humble kitchen tools that people tell jokes about; the world is tumbling with innocent-seeming objects ready to declare themselves, slippery and obliging.
His perversely appealing lack of handsomeness.
They glided into suburbs where bedsheets, and towels used to wipe up intimate stains, flapped leeringly on the clotheslines, where even the children seemed to be frolicking lewdly in the schoolyards, and the very truckdrivers stopped at the railway crossings must be thrusting their thumbs gleefully into curled hands.
Overall sexual content: The story is challenging given that the woman does not consent to the sexual activity. She freezes when she feels something like a hand and tries to work out whether it actually is the weight of a hand or not. She even thinks he might be asleep. He has made sure that his newspaper overlaps her coat so that his hand is invisible.
What actually happens is couched in metaphor and the woman is unsure of her feelings. It seems to happen in slow-mo – watching the countryside flash by and feeling something alien down there. The weight of the unspoken. Not altogether against it. But not totally for it, either. The narrator says that she could have shifted the newspaper or removed her coat, implying that she chose not to, that somehow she is complicit.
Overall conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Titillation station: It is sexy, to a degree. Maybe not full burn, but it is nervously drawn in a way that is reminiscent of young fumbling first sexual experiences and the conversations that are had in our own heads. This does not make it right, what happens. And the story does not firmly push the reader either way on this. It is intricately balanced. The titillation comes from the underlying feeling that the woman enjoys what happens, immensely. That she wants it. But that’s a hard swallow, today. It is abuse. Not saying no is never a green light.
Food for thought: The narrator frequently describes his hand: the hand did this and that hand did that, almost like the man had no control over the hand or that it alone is responsible.
The man tells the woman, when he first sits down next to her, that he saw some Canadian geese on a pond the other day, and when he took another look there were some swans in amongst the geese. A flock of swans. He said it looked lovely and that he’d never seen anything like it. There’s nothing like the banality of men talking to women they don’t know. Lovely is probably the worst word in the English language. Much like nice. I’m not really sure what this guy is saying to her. Maybe it’s “I’m a nice man because I like birds. I’m not a threat. Please don’t raise the alarm when I invade your body.”
As an aside, trains are hot. They feature in lots of sex metaphors. Is there any research on why I wonder? Aside from the phallus shaped carriages, pushing and pulling, blah blah blah, penis.
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