THE WOMAN INSIDE THE GRAVE | Tiffany Sumner.
Red Door Magazine.
⇒Today’s story has the goods: Sex. Death. Sex with dead people.
Intrigued? Of course you are. I had you at sex with dead people.
Basically, this piece is told from the perspective of a woman’s corpse. She’s been magically awakened through some witchcraft, some sort of spell that restores consciousness but doesn’t really reanimate the corpse (at least, not at first). We get the narrative from the point of view of the woman, which is a really interesting POV choice considering, you know, she’s dead. But since there’s already some black magic in play here, it’s not too much of a stretch for the story’s author to use a third person that telescopes in and out of the woman’s mind, is semi-omniscient to the point that we can tell what’s happening outside of her shallow grave, her coffinless resting place. It’s a really effective perspective choice that solves the problem of narrating from the POV of a person with limited motion; sure, our heroine is dead, but in death she has a kind of psychic access to the world above her. The technique we see here creates both a claustrophobic effect and opens the narrative up. This works really well.
The two big themes in this piece, if you didn’t gather above, are sex and death. The sex theme has to do with the protagonist’s fears and repressed drives and standards of morality and propriety, all of which drove her fear and repression in her former life. We are reminded that the woman is not just a woman but a Lady, a Teacher, and so she (in her former life) expects and attempts to cultivate ladylike behavior from other woman, particularly, in the case of this story, young woman.
It should not come as a surprise that other women in this story fail to live up to the woman’s exacting standards of ladylike behavior.
It should also not surprise the reader to discover that the woman’s greatest fear seems to be of herself, and her own innately unladylike nature. But read the story to see what I mean.
This is a disturbing story, but in a really atmospheric Southern Gothic way, like Faulkner at his creepiest. Although there isn’t really any environmental clue as to where this story takes place (a small town, we infer, in middle America) we don’t have much to go on. There is an unspoken but palpable background of oppressive religiosity. I know, being “ladylike” isn’t necessarily just the province of puritanical doctrine, but it is when it’s taken to the extent that this protagonist does. This story takes two pure things, sex and death, and mixes them up into an ugly thematic sludge that’s horrifying and totally rad.
Anyway, this story, written in stark, beautiful prose, is very unsettling and quite intricate plot-wise. Everything fits together so well it’s a wonder the author accomplishes as much as she does in this short space; yet the story doesn’t feel rushed, which is important, since you can’t rush a story about sex. Or death.