Escape Artists

News:

News

ATTENTION: NEW FORUM THEME Please see here for details: http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=13188.0

Author Topic: Pseudopod 83: Heartstrung  (Read 15745 times)

Bdoomed

  • Pseudopod Tiger
  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 5319
  • Mmm. Tiger.
on: March 29, 2008, 05:22:08 PM
Pseudopod 83: Heartstrung

By Rachel Swirsky

Read by Heather Welliver

“One, two, three, the needle swoops.

Pamela squirms as the needle cuts into her sensitive heart tissue. “It hurts!”

“Shh,” the seamstress says. “It’s almost done, honey. Just a few more stitches and you’ll be like mommy.”

The seamstress bends forward as she presses her needle into her daughter’s heart for another stitch, squinting to make sure she sews tight and even. As she pulls the thread taut, she realizes this stitch marks the midpoint – she’s now halfway finished sewing Pamela’s heart onto her sleeve.


Today's Sponsor:
<a href="http://escapepod.org/images/infected_250.swf" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://escapepod.org/images/infected_250.swf</a>
Infected by Scott Sigler



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2008, 09:51:27 PM by Bdoomed »

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


CammoBlammo

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 199
Reply #1 on: March 29, 2008, 06:45:57 PM
Not quite what I expected at Pseudopod, but wow, that was good. I like have my heartstrings pulled from time to time, if you'll pardon the expression. If Rachel (if that is her real name) edits the way she writes, I think Podcastle's in fine shape.

The premise itself was rather interesting. I can imagine Rachel heard somebody say, 'Pamela really wears her heart on her sleeve' and got to thinking, 'What a curious expression. What does that actually mean? Can you take your heart off your sleeve?' --- and this story popped out.

In my experience such stories rarely work without being forced or end with a silly punchline. So that makes it doubly good.



deflective

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1171
Reply #2 on: March 29, 2008, 07:28:38 PM
enjoyed this one. i was a little worried we were heading for a preaching about female circumcision but it was handled well. the story compares favourably with the mill.

it's odd that the author took the 'heart on the sleeve' idiom and reversed the meaning. i'm not sure if it was just convenience or if there's a deeper meaning to it.

i had a minor quibble with the mother worrying about her daughters shirt staying in fashion. yeah, yeah... she's sewing her daughter's heart to a sweater (a sweater that fits at nine and will continue to fit for the rest of her life) and i'm worried about the social implications. that's how speculative fiction's supposed to work tho, you can accept the premise on face value but the rest of the story has to make sense.

in a world where all woman always wear the same shirt there wouldn't be fashion, not the way we think about it. it's part of you, it would kinda be like worrying that tall would stay in in style.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2008, 11:33:06 PM by deflective »



Chodon

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 519
  • Molon Labe
Reply #3 on: March 31, 2008, 11:26:51 AM
Having a heart on one's sleeve could lead to a whole range of issues.  Most notably infection, but also damage due to trauma.  That's why it's encased in a cage of bone.  But I'll give some technical leeway because that is not the point of this story.

I don't really know how to take this story.  It seems like a criticism of the way women are treated and how they are always expected to be pretty, happy, smiling Stepford Wives.  I find this a little difficult to relate to for two reasons: 1) I'm a male, 2) I was never raised to believe anyone should always be happy.  Is this a common theme, or am I simply just out of touch with this perceived social demand because I have an outie instead of an innie?

Also, it doesn't seem like an entirely bad thing to be able to remove one's strongest negative emotions.  Everyone has had emotional or personal issues at some point that got in the way of their relationships or work.  I think it would be pretty nice to be able to turn that noise down and get back to business.  Again, maybe I'm missing something because I have a hard time relating to the social and gender issues this story brings up.

Finally, a technical writing point.  I was a little confused at how the mother and seamstress were interchangable.  Were they the same person?  I thought they were different, but kept getting hints they were the same person.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #4 on: April 01, 2008, 02:04:29 PM
Finally, a technical writing point.  I was a little confused at how the mother and seamstress were interchangable.  Were they the same person?  I thought they were different, but kept getting hints they were the same person.

They were the same person, I'm certain. It said several times that the seamstress was operating on her own daughter.

I didn't really enjoy this story. It was heavy-handed and predictable, and didn't know when to end (specifically, it didn't need to spell out what would happen after the mother's death, that was pretty obvious given everything that came earlier). And I have to say, the narration didn't do it any favors - it was neutral for most of it, but sometimes chose to accentuate parts of it with emotion. This was crude and unnecessary given how unsubtle the story was. Either the whole story should have been read dramatically, or the narrator should have stayed neutral.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2008, 02:24:40 PM by eytanz »



AliceNred

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 86
Reply #5 on: April 02, 2008, 12:18:17 AM
I concure, the steamstress than the mother were the same person.

I thought this this a great one.


Stop throwing gnomes at me. They hurt.


Chodon

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 519
  • Molon Labe
Reply #6 on: April 02, 2008, 01:08:11 AM
I concure, the steamstress than the mother were the same person.
I figured that point out by the end, but the two titles for the same character threw me for a loop.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


Dwango

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 165
Reply #7 on: April 02, 2008, 03:20:00 PM
After listening to the ending, I wonder if this really is about misogeny or if the author wants us to think it is.  It is never mentioned if men go through the same tradition, nor is it alluded to.  At the end, the discussion is about growing up, and how one can become emotionally distance in the process.

I think the idea is to reflect how we see the world.  By not mentioning the male's side, only showing the female side, we make assumptions about what is going on.  If you consider that the men are abusing the women and using this process to control them, it reflects on your view of how women are treated by society.  I, for one, jumped to that conclusion pretty fast, so it is in my consciousness that there are still inequities between men and women.  It may be the stories of honor killings and the clitoral circumcision I've heard that brings it out.  Of course, I rather think a lot of things in life are unfair, so it may be a general outlook beyond just one aspect of life.

Good story if I'm getting this introspective about it.  That's why horror works, it really makes you think.



Listener

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 3187
  • I place things in locations which later elude me.
    • Various and Sundry Items of Interest
Reply #8 on: April 02, 2008, 04:22:03 PM
The reading was really great.

The story?  Not so much.  It took a great premise -- wearing your heart on your sleeve -- and made it uninteresting.

There were far too many narrative cliches.  The flashbacks especially.

I did like the air spirit bit, though.  And Pamela's next action?  100% accurate.  (One time, my mom asked me to bring down the clothes from my sister's room.  She meant the dirty laundry.  You can guess what made it to the laundry room.)

I think this story has a lot of really great parts.  Too many parts.  If I was workshopping it, I would have either made a whole story about the air spirit *BIG EFFING HINT*, a whole story about the heart/sleeve thing, or a whole story about the mother experiencing regret again.

(And that was an extremely convenient and obvious narrative point.)

(As you can see, the air spirit part was one of my favorites.)

"Farts are a hug you can smell." -Wil Wheaton

Blog || Quote Blog ||  Written and Audio Work || Twitter: @listener42


bolddeceiver

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 226
  • Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...
Reply #9 on: April 03, 2008, 02:29:35 AM
Just jumping back and forth between an few episode comments threads -- was there an Escape Artists editorial conspiracy last week?  Some very similar subtextual themes, albeit in very different stories.



goatkeeper

  • Guest
Reply #10 on: April 03, 2008, 04:58:36 AM
So, just to get this straight- this is supposed to be horror because she killed herself in the end?

Don't get me wrong, I loved the story-just sayin.



bolddeceiver

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 226
  • Plunging like stones from a slingshot on mars...
Reply #11 on: April 03, 2008, 05:25:13 AM
So, just to get this straight- this is supposed to be horror because she killed herself in the end?

You mean the imagery of sewing disembodied organs to clothing no longer passes for horror?



eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #12 on: April 03, 2008, 08:31:55 AM
So, just to get this straight- this is supposed to be horror because she killed herself in the end?

You mean the imagery of sewing disembodied organs to clothing no longer passes for horror?

Not when it's told in such a dry manner that makes it boring before five minutes are past, no.



goatkeeper

  • Guest
Reply #13 on: April 03, 2008, 02:55:55 PM
So, just to get this straight- this is supposed to be horror because she killed herself in the end?

You mean the imagery of sewing disembodied organs to clothing no longer passes for horror?

The organ sewing didn't even cause a blip on my radar as horror.  I could see how the subject of organ stitching could be horrifying but the writing here wasn't really going after that at all IMO.
I don't wanna be "that guy" who pops in and starts a genre debate- it's a great story in every regard aside from a body-horror perspective.



JoeFitz

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 258
Reply #14 on: April 05, 2008, 07:02:57 PM
If you open your daughter's chest and remove her heart in order to sew it onto a sweater you won't kill her body, only her spirit. Take off your own sweater, however, and kill your body to free your spirit. Fairly subtle, all things considered.

This story bothered me enough on several levels that I'm glad I listened to it and regret it at the same time.

Keep the stories coming!




Kaa

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 618
  • Trusst in me, jusst in me.
    • WriteWright
Reply #15 on: April 11, 2008, 03:58:33 PM
So, just to get this straight- this is supposed to be horror because she killed herself in the end?

You mean the imagery of sewing disembodied organs to clothing no longer passes for horror?

Not when it's told in such a dry manner that makes it boring before five minutes are past, no.

Actually, that's what made the story for me, and I found it far from boring.  I was riveted by it. The whole thing was so normal, so matter-of-fact, that the narrator told the story in a somewhat dry, almost bored tone.  "Ho-hum, removing my daughter's heart and sewing it onto her sweater."  The "horror" comes from many aspects, not the least of which is that in the world of this story, this kind of thing is accepted behavior, and the fact that they've waited so long before doing it is causing her little girl to be something of a social pariah.

I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

About writing || About Atheism and Skepticism (mostly) || About Everything Else


Ben Phillips

  • Lich King
  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 299
    • Pseudopod
Reply #16 on: April 13, 2008, 11:36:46 PM
Just jumping back and forth between an few episode comments threads -- was there an Escape Artists editorial conspiracy last week?  Some very similar subtextual themes, albeit in very different stories.

Nah, we're not that organized.



Chivalrybean

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 158
    • The Space Turtle
Reply #17 on: April 15, 2008, 01:31:08 AM
I can't say I 'got' the story, but here is what it did for me: It made me get the creepy sick feeling I get when I give blood. EEEchk.... There I was at work wondering of my face was going pale. I hate giving blood. If I get a cut and blood starts flowing, no biggie, gimme a band-aid and I am good. But, stick a needle in me and start draining my life away, I hate it! I do it because it saves others and they give me cookies, but I still get a tad queasy (not as much the more times I go it though). The thought of a living beating heart getting a needle pushed through it, my heart, while I watched, yuck icky creepy I felt like my own blood was draining. This story got the most reaction out of me in that respect, though it is far from my favorite story.

The Space Turtle - News that didn't happen, stories to entertain.


Chodon

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 519
  • Molon Labe
Reply #18 on: April 15, 2008, 02:04:04 AM
...But, stick a needle in me and start draining my life away, I hate it! ...
Ditto.  The worst part isn't the needle, it's the warm tube running down my arm.  Ick.  I don't do it to save people, I do it for the cookies.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for cookies.  2 gallons next month!  Woo-hoo!

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


eroomtam

  • Guest
Reply #19 on: April 15, 2008, 03:25:10 PM
Didn't "Little Match Girl" just cover this?  A world where women are repressed and the main character kills herself in the end to escape it and show her rebellion.

I will give this story points for inverting the "heart on your sleeve" expression and using a fantasy element that could never happen in reality, and is a bit disturbing.  I also will give it more points for referencing a number of issues having to deal with how women are treated in some cultures: being "sewn up" (heart in the story; vagina in the real world); being forced to always be covered up (sweater / burka); metaphors of bloods and how that relates to becoming a woman; fitting in and social pressure; rituals to "become" a woman.  I also appreciated that it is the mother who sews her own daughter, echoing our own world where women are oppressed by other women: women circumcise their daughters; pressure them to be "good" girls and "good wives"; are far more harsh on matters of weight, fashion, and appearance.

But, overall, this story struck me as another one where someone has an axe to grind about women's issues, and grind it very loudly.  This turned me off because it is not balanced and it seems that is all the story is about, but the above mentioned points kept me on the fence and I was willing to see where it went.

Where I got off this story's train was the father slapping his own daughter to signify she is a woman.  I understand there needs to be some overt gesture to which she will signify her subservience and repression of her feelings—getting slapped and then smiling about it.  But this was so overt, so over the top, so unneeded and added nothing to the story.  Themes of repression/suppression are fine, but when violence is introduced it changed the whole tenor and theme of the story.  Destroying her toys or prized childhood possession and forcing her to repress her feelings?  Sure, I could buy that.  Having to start doing the chores and not being allowed to play anymore?  Yes, good.  Hell, what about becoming betrothed to someone she never met, but still needing to smile about it?  All of these I can understand.

But physical violence: No.  Too much.  And too easy.  With all that had gone before thematically, this story element said to me "Our male-dominated society slaps women and expects them to smile about."  Sick scumbags who deserve to rot in Hell slap women (or childrens, or anyone for that matter).



sirana

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 409
Reply #20 on: April 15, 2008, 05:03:34 PM
I normally have problems with stories that are so direct in their political message, but I liked this one.
I think it was the lyrical voice and the imagery that made this story a memorable one in my eyes.
I'm pretty much with Chodon in that I feel difficult to relate to this kind of story as a criticism of our society. And I would be very surprised if the story wasn't meant to be read in this way, both because the story points this way pretty strongly imho and because Rachel, judgeing from her comments in this forum is very interested and invested in the issue of oppression of women. 
But I still liked the story and especially the tale she tells her daughter, which is just really beautiful.



AliceNred

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 86
Reply #21 on: April 29, 2008, 07:01:24 PM
 I think the reason some do not feel this is horror with a capital "H" is because it is not. It's what I think of dark fantasy. Because there must be some kind unspoken magical element to allow hearts to be sewn onto selves, it fits nicely into the category of fantasy. At least for me.

In another writer's hands, the story could have become much more graphic. But I really liked that it did not. Not that if I read a similar story with a different focus I might dislike it because it had a harsher tone to it, I might in fact dig such a story, but the gentle nature of story is what made it for me.

But I must agree that if the story did not have the death at the end, it would have gone into another light altogether for me. It is indeed what makes the story horror.


Stop throwing gnomes at me. They hurt.


Sgarre1

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1211
  • "Let There Be Fright!"
Reply #22 on: July 02, 2008, 11:47:01 PM
Good reading of a fairly well-written story that, in actual content is mediocre and only adequately developed.

The central conceit (a world where the loaded symbol of "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve" is literalized), is undermined, IMO, by a lack of clarity (evident in some of these responses) on the part of the writer as to how "symbolic" this action is.  Obviously, a bleeding organ is not being literally sewn onto apparel (too many logical problems) so this must be a symbolic action in a parallel world, some act of magic that causes the emotional reactions we are asked to accept (and thus, intended as a social commentary on our world) and helps sustain the repressive system put in place by Men (with a capital...).

But, as with a lot of stories of this type, the central conceit raises more questions than it wants to answer because we are asked to accept that this is a world where women wear the same set of clothes from puberty on and the violent removal of this symbol causes actual, biological death.  And while all this could be smoothed out at length by a thoughtful writer (which Ms. Swirsky obviously is), the next question arises - is it worth expanding the story and asking a reader to invest time in service of what is, essentially, a small, cute idea.  The other direction for making it work is to cut back the "world details" and the need for them, making the story more deeply symbolic but also surreal and thus, unlikely to raise too many "logical" questions.

For some 12 year old girl (or even boy) this could easily be a "greatest story I ever read", if read at the  right time.  It would fit nicely into a Young Adults Horror Anthology. But adults deserve a little more writerly meat.

The enculturation horror/dark fantasy story, especially of the feminist variety, is a tough row to hoe nowadays, due to over-familiarity.  Quite a while back, the sheer idea that women wouldn't be happy with their lot in life provided enough conflict and friction to propel a story forward.  Times have moved on and the situation has changed (not necessarily gotten  better, just gotten more complex) but something like "The Yellow Wallpaper" is still complex enough to be examined and enjoyed today.  The writer of a modern attempt at the same territory has much more to work with in our complicated world, but much larger expectations and responsibilities as well.  "Heartstrings" was a nice attempt but cut a few too many corners.

Thanks for listening.

Description of performance “Cut Piece” (1964) by Yoko Ono
“She sat alone on a vast and gloomy stage, while members of the audience came up and cut bits of her clothes away with a large and very sharp pair of scissors – the proceedings gradually given over to the vulnerability and peril of this tiny, increasingly uncovered woman, as watchers were deliberately encouraged to discard conventional distance and cross barriers to get to her, stepping out of life into art, wielding death.”
Mark Sinker, Yoko Ono review, The Wire #144, February, 1996




Myrealana

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 107
    • Bad Foodie
Reply #23 on: August 04, 2008, 08:00:09 PM
Honestly, listening to this story, I forgot it was a Pseudopod story. I thought it was Podcastle. (Yeah, I know there's an intro, but I often don't pay attention to them.)

I loved the rhythm and reading of this story. It was like gentle music rising and falling with emotion - as it tells the story of a whole culture of women stripped of their own feelings.

I adored the description of the air spirit, and the way she tied it back in the end.

If I have one problem with this story, it is that I can't see the horror aspect to it. It wasn't frightening, it poignant.

"You don't fix faith. Faith fixes you." - Shepherd Book


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #24 on: October 22, 2009, 08:31:36 PM
The Message in this story was too heavy-handed.  I don't have anything against a story carrying a message, but this was a message carrying a story, and it suffered for it.

The Magical Realism setting gave an interesting premise.  If the message had been toned down a bit, I think I could've really loved this one.  As it was, I liked a lot of things, but it was all overshadowed by the Message.