Re-re-review: Wolf-Alice, by Angela Carter

I won’t lie, the first half of any new year is usually pretty tough for me mentally. Getting my financial biz together is usually the easy bit, then there’s adjusting to time changes, seasonal changes, seasonal depression going back to regular depression, and frankly by May I’m just tired of any contact besides wet kitty noses on my face.

A friend & I recently had a conversation … see, she hates modern literature. I can’t say I blame her. If you don’t like to engage a text too much and you’re not here for envelope-pushing, genre-warping, and/or boundary pushing, most modern and postmodernism media isn’t going to be for you.

Me … well, as a reader, writer, and reviewer, I have a lot of issues in real life to work out through fiction. I will often use literature and TV (and music, but don’t make me sing y’all) to explain my condition. You know, a reference guide. Like, “gender is kind of like a werewolf, you know?”

(Nod if you’ve seen Ginger Snaps)

I love it when gender and especially womanhood are described in the monstrous. It’s one of the reasons why, when I’m having Stupid Identity Issue Time (trademarked yo) I keep turning to Angela Carter’s short story collection, The Bloody Chamber. I’m not going to say Carter always handles gender representation well but the wolf-themed short stories are sort of my reference guide to get myself back on track. Why “Wolf-Alice” in particular though? Well…

As a non-binary person, my journey through womanhood was basically a sprint through falling buildings. I just wanted to get out of it already and see what the fuss was about. Changes that I understood but disagreed with were happening anyway. I thought by becoming feminine, boys would treat me differently. If I learned the rules of humanity, people would respect me.

Even as an adult I am still learning these things are not … true. The Wolf-Alice learns there are many caveats to this strange human world. There’s a lot of rules and so much to learn, and so damned much of it makes no sense. It’s restricting and it’s all self-imposed. What I’ve always liked about this story is she is transforming back. It’s easy to decide you want to eschew the comforts of society and go buck wild. Eventually you’ll come back and get it out of your system. But if you were born outside? Your whole sense of normal and community is flipped upside down to something completely foreign. I often complain about having to shrink and morph myself daily to fit expectations, and I need queer spaces to stretch. Trying to maintain some sort of normalcy is draining. But I don’t know if people without my lived experience are really feeling me. I’m not saying there’s no common ground but when I’m talking to allies, I can’t think of a way to explain it. It’s like the creature from the Black Lagoon deciding to live on land or a feral girl-child coming back to society.

Then I go back to my conversation with my friend. Yeah, there’s a lot of modern literature that can’t hold up to the classics. But I don’t see myself in Victorian gothic novels. I may want to but most of the time it’s a reach. I continue to read modern lit and specifically spec-fic because my form of escapism is actually being validated and seeing my experiences, no matter how monstrous, represented. So when I’m down, I end up right back here in these pages. Like Wolf-Alice, I’m looking at my own reflection and pawing at it, trying to understand what I’m seeing.

(PS if you have never read The Bloody Chamber I can’t pressure you but here’s a link)