Apple and Knife
This new story collection by the Indonesian-born Intan Paramaditha uses horror as a vehicle for representing the experiences of women living in patriarchy and for expressing feminist anger. The results are both unsettling and intoxicating. Often revising fairytales, the stories are reminiscent of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, though the direct manner of narration resembles the narrative style of Haruki Murakami, who also has a penchant for the Gothic.
“The Blind Woman Without a Toe” revises the Cinderella story, recovering the horror of the original fairytale sanitised by Disney. The story is narrated from the perspective of one of the ugly stepsisters, who resents her beautiful young sister Sindelarat – or “Sin” for short – who is favoured by their father and male suitors. When Prince Charming comes calling, looking for the owner of the fabled slipper, the narrator cuts off her toe to fit into the shoe. Here the storyteller addresses the reader, figured as a child in a way that parodically evokes the typical audience and didactic conventions of the fairytale: “I tossed the first morsel of my flesh into the trash so that stray dogs could eat it. You would do well to know, child, that this world is filled with poorly fitting shoes that only accommodate the mutilated.” The narrator further advises: “When in competition, women need to eliminate rivals and be unsparing in their hatred.”
In other stories, women exact revenge on men. In “Queen”, a corrupt businessman is supernaturally punished for his infidelities by his wife. In “Apple and Knife”, which plays with more ancient stories, the repressed erotic and aggressive energies of women are released as they fall upon a young man, like the maenads of ancient Greek myth. In “Blood”, a woman resists the lessons of a teacher instructing her about the filthiness and sinfulness of menstruation and female sexuality. When she and her boyfriend decide to sleep together, he rebukes her because, “There was no blood.” Later she seduces him while she is menstruating. When he responds with disgust at the sight of her blood “oozing into a pool of crimson”, she taunts him: “That’s what you want, right?”
Paramaditha’s stories are shockingly bold and macabrely funny, powerfully defamiliarising the cultural lore of patriarchy. What makes them special is their lack of interest in representing women as victims – here, the taboo of feminist anger is flagrantly and entertainingly broken. KN
Brow Books, 208pp, $27.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 3, 2018 as "Intan Paramaditha, Apple and Knife". Subscribe here.