Review: “Ten Days’ Grace” (Foz Meadows)

I had a chance to view Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford, and I had a few … thoughts.
(No spoilers promise)
This movie isn’t as gimmicky as I thought it would be and wow this actually accurately depicts how women are treated in unfaithful relationships.
That’s not to say it was the best, most progressive movie of all time. In fact, initially I didn’t like it until I gave it some thought. Then I realized I at least understand what Ford wanted to accomplish. As you may or may not know, there’s some kind of double standard in the world in which men & women (on a binary scale anyway) are treated differently. Even in romantic relationships. Shocker, I know. There are many stories, spec fic or not, that deal with this paradox–women are either malicious perpetrators of infidelity, or hapless victims. And of course there are more thoughtful, complex portrayals as well. And then … there are the painful, accurate ones where lopsided punishment is doled out and there’s nothing done about it.
I was thinking about all this as a sort of background context when almost by pure accident, in the middle of composing another review, I came across “Ten Days’ Grace” by Foz Meadows. I remember this short story making the rounds in 2014 when it was published and I was intrigued but don’t recall actually reading it. Now, it’s like in my confused post-movie haze I was subconsciously searching for it. I have also been curious about their young adult work but as I like to do with all authors unfamiliar to me, I’ll read something shorter first.
So, you might be wondering, “how are you going to put this in the context of a Tom Ford movie and stuff about infidelity?”
Because, well … uh, I didn’t like this story a whole lot at first for much of the reason I didn’t like that movie at first. The infidelity subplot here–like in Animals–is one of many themes in this story but it weighed heavily on my mind because it tied the ending together. In a way that I realized was intended to make me think: why is this happening to her? It just seems excessively unfair.
And, you know, “Ten Days’ Grace” explores just how excessively unfair and cruel society is towards marginalized groups. There is no winning here. As Julia’s young daughter Lily cries out upon discovering she must have a new father as mandated by law, “why can’t they leave us alone?” And it’s painfully accurate.
At times it feels like we’re not that far off from a society that dictates nuclear family roles. After all, aren’t we already living under oppressive cis-heteronormative guidelines? As a child of a single parent (and later co-parents) the message that a two parent household is always better–no matter who the parents are–really struck me. This is something I’ve heard directly. I’ve witnessed my single mother be blamed needlessly for my development. That’s the fear. That Julia’s infidelity, her black mark on society, would not only negatively drag down her social status but her daughter’s. In this story that is literally against the law. I could not only imagine but feel her horror as she stared down a list of “candidates” just so her child won’t be taken away.
This story was short and exhausting to read, and I still just kept thinking “why is this happening?” The answer, of course, is it simply is what happens. The State has its own rhyme and reason of maintaining families and this is how we keep marginalized groups in line. And I thought to myself, “wow, that is a pretty accurate depiction of how women are punished for having outside relationships.”
I made a blink of a connection when I finished reading the story for the second time. I didn’t like it for being right. I hated that the happy ending involved just dealing with things and rebelling from the inside. But it’s right. That’s just what happens. I let it stew for a bit and got over it, and now I can fully recommend it if you want to read it and have some thinky-thoughts like I did. As for Animals, eh, well. It’s…an experience with an interesting ending. But definitely check out “Ten Days’ Grace” instead, from Apex magazine.