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Author Topic: Pseudopod 397: Gut Check  (Read 6203 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: August 02, 2014, 08:49:34 PM »

Pseudopod 397: Gut Check

by Toni Nicolino.

Toni said of “Gut Check”: “Every day, human beings endure misfortunes big and small: we’re bullied, hurt, betrayed; we lose parents and children, we lose jobs, we get divorced; we miscarry. They’re widespread problems that happen to ordinary people—except that we’re anything but ordinary. Because we survive. And that alone takes guts.”

TONI NICOLINO’s short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Morpheus Tales, the Pill Hill Press Big Book of New Short Horror and Daily Flash Publications’ Daily Frights 2012. She has also been published in Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day, Women’s Health, Women’s Wear Daily, CosmoGIRL!, ELLEGirl, Budget Living, OK! and Zink magazines. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Anthony, their daughter Charlie, and their three cats..

Your reader – Stephanie Morris – is a librarian-in-training, a voracious biblio- and audiophile, an occasional writer of short stories, and a voice and stage actor. She has narrated short stories for PseudoPod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders, guest-blogged on subjects ranging from creative writing to zombie turkeys, and performed Shakespeare in a handful of weird churches. She is currently working toward a degree in Media Studies, which is really just a sneaky way for her to discuss her favorite fandoms in an academic context. She blogs at scribbleomania.



“The sun had ducked behind the overgrown trees on Twining Avenue, and she checked the time on her cell phone. She’d been meandering for almost thirty minutes, and if she went any further, she wouldn’t have the energy to trek back. She turned around and started the journey home, feeling strangely fearful of the sudden darkness. The streetlights hadn’t yet been activated and the lack of illumination made her uneasy. She picked up the pace, wondering if her protective new-mother disposition had heightened her sense of self-preservation. More likely, the recollection of her unpleasant childhood had caused the unrest.

She turned the corner onto another darkened block and tried to steer her thoughts to a more optimistic topic, like her pregnancy, but she couldn’t shake her disquiet. Bad memories seemed to follow her tonight, and Rae developed the uncomfortable suspicion that she was no longer alone on the street. She slowed, determined to eliminate the possibility that something tangible—and perhaps threatening—trailed behind her. But before she could turn around, confirmation came in the form of a blow to the legs. Pain exploded in her right kneecap and she fell to the sidewalk, her mind leaping to that day in the seventh grade when she’d been pushed in the hallway. Instinctively, her arms thrust forth to break her fall, but her fight-or-flight instincts were numbed by surprise and fear. Her attacker took advantage of the temporary shock and thrust a bare arm around her neck; the stranger smelled vaguely of cigarettes and barbeque sauce, and just as it registered that it was in fact a man—and not her bad thoughts—which had been stalking her, a cold, hard object was pressed against her temple.

“I’ll shoot if you scream,” he said, and despite the warning, Rae couldn’t help herself. The scream had formed in her throat the moment her legs had been bashed, and even though it felt like the act had transpired minutes before, in reality, only seconds had passed. The cry was on her tongue now; it was a high-speed train moving at breakneck speed, too fast to stop, and as she opened her mouth to let it pass, a white light blinded her. The pain came next; it crawled over her skull like cracks in glass, and then everything went black.”





Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2014, 10:25:28 PM »

Hmm. I wish the protagonist hadn't been pregnant to avoid the whole mamma bear thing. I wish the attacker hadn't been so physically unattractive and a stranger. And I wonder how many times in quick succession you can suddenly find yourself more full of rage than you have ever been in your life. I don't know. I kept thinking of the term "revenge porn", although I know that's a misapplication of the term.

I thought the movie Enough with Jennifer Lopez did a better job of handling a similar subject.
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Varda
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2014, 05:39:00 PM »

Nice guest host spot, Brian. Smiley I especially appreciated the warning at the start, and the thoughtful outtro.

I think the highlight of this story for me was the moment when the attacker says something like, "I wasn't going to kill you. I was going to let you go afterwards." Which was viciously, wickedly funny and very pointed, because basically the scumbag is just saying, "Hey lady, I only wanted to rape you, not murder you! Why so upset?!"

As a story about rape, this one didn't really hit the mark for me, for many of the reasons Bouncewoosh highlighted. I wish the main character had had something else to her personality than "husband" and "baby", even just a hobby or a job or really anything. It also bugged me how much the story upheld some of the frankly dangerous myths about rape (that rapists are usually strangers hiding in the shadows; that rape is mainly about sex/lust instead of power/dominance) and even more so, those about how rape victims should behave. It's a bit cruel, the way we praise those who physically fight back against their attackers while ignoring or downplaying those who do not or cannot.

Also, I don't think the story really got at what's really scary about rape: the aftermath, the way something like this can come to define her in the eyes of everyone she knows, how she'll have to recount all these events to the police again and again while they ask her if she's SURE she didn't somehow lead him on or entice him. I guess it's hard for me to feel her victory at the end, knowing the really bad part is still ahead.

As an example, "The Final Girl" at Strange Horizons earlier this year IMHO really nailed the topic of rape & violence survival for me, and how the aftermath can be worse than the actual event.

On the other hand, when I think of "Gut Check" as a sort of revenge fantasy, maybe a representative of what we all hope we might be capable of in such circumstances, I can see why this story works well in many ways.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2014, 04:10:23 AM »

What Varda said.

Also, I have to keep looking at the post at the top of this thread to remind me which story it was. That doesn't exactly suggest that it had much of an impact on me.
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Dwango
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« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2014, 10:34:25 AM »

I liked the hosting for and found the host amiable.  The story did have a feel of revenge porn, especially with the violent history of bullying the main character had.  For such a serious subject, it's really hard to get into with the nasty fighting.  It just doesn't seem to hold the understanding of such a terrible situation, it unintentionally belittled it in some ways.  It became the excuse for a violent fight without any nuance or sympathy for the victim.  She never fought back until the rape and carrying a baby, so the event becomes a catharsis of all her anger and a growth experience.  I just can't  believe that a rape situation is any event for growth and it's despite the act that people are able to recover.  Don't like to be so harsh, but this is a very difficult subject to tackle and highly emotional.

P.S. After this and last week's very serious subject matter, I really hope we get a good old fashioned monster or bump in the night scary story next.
« Last Edit: August 05, 2014, 10:36:13 AM by Dwango » Logged
Sgarre1
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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2014, 08:52:28 PM »

Quote
After this and last week's very serious subject matter, I really hope we get a good old fashioned monster or bump in the night scary story next.

Ask and ye shall...
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2014, 07:52:42 AM »

I think that Varda makes some really good points.  In the old days, a woman had to fight back--and fight back hard--in order for the law to even call it rape.  They used terms like "utmost resistance" and the like.  Anything short of that, and it was, legally, her fault.  We have, thankfully, gotten past that in the law.  And, by and large, in our social thinking about rape.  But there's still a lingering sense that the victim has an obligation to protect herself from rape in a way that we do not apply to other violent crimes.

To be clear, I am not saying that the author here was in any way attempting to argue that women should fight back or need to fight back as victims.  That's just what came to mind to me as I listened.

As a story of straight up catharsis, I thought this worked very well.  We all have demons, and listening to a protagonist literally punch hers in the balls is actually pretty damn satisfying.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2014, 08:09:31 PM »



I think the highlight of this story for me was the moment when the attacker says something like, "I wasn't going to kill you. I was going to let you go afterwards." Which was viciously, wickedly funny and very pointed, because basically the scumbag is just saying, "Hey lady, I only wanted to rape you, not murder you! Why so upset?!"

To me this was the most poignant moment. He seemed to honestly think this was a point in his favor. It goes to show no matter how low someone is they will justify it by saying "Well I'm not as bad as I could have been so really I'm pretty good".
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2014, 08:49:19 AM »

I expected to dislike the story--there are a few subjects that I get very squeamish about.  But, apparently I was in the minority in thinking this story did pretty well at it. I think the thing that I liked about is that she has a mindset that looks like it will allow her to try to grow from the experience.  Varda has a good point that there will be other bad things to come as a result of this, and I don't this story discounts that, it's just that at least in this moment she has learned something about herself and has reached an epiphany.

That said, it would be a hard story to recommend to anyone, in part because I'm squeamish on the topic, and it's a story certain to divide opinions strongly.

I think that the story could've done better without the mama bear justification.  If a woman's going to fight, why does she have to be protecting her offspring to do so?  If I had to lay money down on comparing the odds if I were backed into a corner from a violent assailant or if my wife were in the same situation, I'd bet my money on her at least 5 to 1.  She is badass, and there needs to be no justification for that.  She just is.
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Bamboo U
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« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2014, 09:52:50 AM »

I remember the first time I saw a grown man ogling my then 8 yr old daughter. Say what you will about the mama bear trope, but I wanted to do some very bad things to that man, right then and there. Totally out of character for me. As a man, I don't have the perspective to comment on how the main character should have felt. I do know that when I was attacked back in 1991, there was a self-preservation instinct that immediately took over. Had I been protecting my daughter that night, I wager that I would have been capable of much greater deeds than running for my life. I agree that this story is only concerned with the attack and not the aftermath. Who's to say which is worse?
My only beef with the narrator is just opinion: life isn't out to get us. Life is neutral. It doesn't give a damn about you or I. It just happens. How we respond shapes your perception of it.
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adrianh
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2014, 11:44:39 AM »

Missed the spot for me. For all the reasons Varda mentioned.

Especially about the stereotypes of rape and how victims "should" behave.  I worked as a volunteer councillor for a couple of years in the 90's and dealing with those stereotypes was a repeated problem — with victims, victims friends and family and, in some cases, law enforcement. Even in the cases of people who "successfully" fought back.

So while there may be a certain visceral pleasure in seeing the baddie defeated the combination of the stereotypes + rape survival as personal growth left a nasty taste at the end.

Not my cup of tea.
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Sanguinette
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2014, 09:06:52 AM »

I can't believe I didn't see any outrage when I clicked on this thread. Maybe I didn't scroll down far enough, forgive me if I missed some outrage.

This story was totally inappropriate for a fiction podcast. It was a rape story. There was nothing supernatural. Super natural, the thing that makes it so you can listen and be horrified without the reality of it happening to you. Am I the only woman who's been assaulted who listens to Pseudopod? Where was the trigger warning? I was sitting on a train and nearly burst into tears. What on earth were you thinking? This story is in no way removed from our mundane reality.

I'm very disappointed in your editors for airing this show. It was a horrible thing to do.
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adrianh
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2014, 10:00:04 AM »

There were trigger warning on the audio (at least the one I listened to, and the one linked to from the web site). I'm surprised that they're not on the web site copy though.

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Sgarre1
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2014, 10:02:49 AM »

"WARNING: This is a podcast of horror fiction. The stories presented here are intended to disturb. They are likely to contain death, graphic violence, explicit sex (including sexual violence), hate crimes, blasphemy, or other themes and images that hook deep into your psyche. We do not provide ratings or content warnings. We assume by your listening that you wish to be disturbed for your entertainment. If there are any themes that you cannot deal with in fiction, that are too strongly personal to you, please do not listen."
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adrianh
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2014, 10:24:20 AM »

For those who don't know @Sgarre1 is quoting what's on the home page. Unfortunately not everybody will get to the story via the home page. Judging from my experience of sites like this (sad usability / IA / web stuff is a big part of my job) I wouldn't be surprised if *most* people don't get to the stories via the home page.

The home page disclaimer also wasn't the one used on the podcast. Instead there was an *explicit* warning on the audio about the theme of the story — so somebody thought it was needed there despite the home page disclaimer. For good reason IMHO since rape is a distressingly common occurrence and unlike your average set of non-supernatural horror stories will affect a significant number of listeners.

If somebody thought it was needed on the audio, I'm surprised they didn't think it was also needed on http://pseudopod.org/2014/08/01/pseudopod-397-gut-check/. For me having it in both places would be a good thing. Especially since there was no clue in the story except of the topic.

One of the things I like about Pseudopod is that it's introduced me to some styles of writing, sub-genres and authors that I was unfamiliar with before. There are certainly some pseudopod stories I've chosen not to listen to because they strike on topics that are too sensitive to me personally. Fortunately in those instances there's been enough context from the intro and the story except for me to avoid 'em.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2014, 10:54:49 AM »

I used to be able to watch/listen to any sort of horror.  Even stuff that scared me did not really get me over the long term.  But, ever since I had kids, I will not listen to Pseudopods that involve children.  When the story begins, and there's a kid there with our protagonist, I'll just skip it.  (Though I ignored my own advice and finished West Gate even though there was a child in the backseat.  Very glad I did.  What a great story).

I'll also generally save my Pseudopod listening for times when I know I am not about to go into an emotionally draining situation at work or home.  No need to take the chance of using up my emotional batteries dealing with a horror story.

Also, to be clear, I am not trying to equate my decision not to listen to certain stories with the very real PTSD and other traumas that sexual assault victims feel.  I understand that those kinds of reactions are different-in-kind from the idea of some stuff simply being "too scary."
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2014, 11:42:13 AM »

I don't think there's a requirement that these stories be supernatural in nature. There was a Stephen King book years ago about a woman handcuffed to a bed - nothing supernatural happened, but it was definitely still horror.

I'm sorry this story triggered you. I only recently started listening to Pseudopod, on the theory that some of the stories would freak me out, and not in a good way. I think in order to be horror, every story probably has an element that would trigger someone. Violent rape obviously could be a trigger for an awful lot of people. I decided my interest in the stories outweighed the risks, but I still expect some story to be beyond unpleasant for me. This story came close to being something I couldn't listen to. Only my trust in the escape artist team kept me listening.

I got this story through the feed, and it had a trigger warning. If that hadn't been there, I would have felt betrayed by the editing team, too.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2014, 05:24:25 PM »

There's no requirement for speculative element in Pseudopod stories.  (Personally I prefer supernatural horror, but that's neither here nor there)

It's completely understandable that any person would not want to listen to a story involving rape, but IMO the audio warning before the story was sufficient--it warned that there was a graphic depiction of a rape before the story began, so that a person could hit Next Track and delete the story off their player ASAP.  Putting a warning on the Pseudopod site would not have been bad either as an additional step (and I think that could still be done now), but since the file can be acquired from various sources the best place for a warning is within the file itself before the story where the warning was put.

I was surprised as I listened that there was a warning at all since the Pseudopod site says that episodes won't have warnings, and I don't recall other Pseudopod episodes with warnings, but in retrospect I think it was a good idea to add in the warning.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2014, 11:01:37 AM »

For those who don't know @Sgarre1 is quoting what's on the home page. Unfortunately not everybody will get to the story via the home page. Judging from my experience of sites like this (sad usability / IA / web stuff is a big part of my job) I wouldn't be surprised if *most* people don't get to the stories via the home page.

I know I don't. I'm on the iTunes feed, and only go to the sites if I have a particular reason. Like iTunes only sent me 2 seconds of the file so I need to get it off the site, for example.

It is a tricky question for the editors though. I wouldn't want to have to sort out a solution.

That would be a nightmare!
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dwarzel
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« Reply #19 on: November 22, 2014, 02:17:40 PM »

Not in the least to denigrate Ms. Nicolino's story, which has certainly done its job in eliciting reactions from its listeners.  But, from a purely technical standpoint:

"[The gun] clicked mockingly, and the barrel rotated..."

I'd imagine the barrel did no such thing, although the cylinder may have rotated if the gun was a revolver.

A little research goes a very long way, and people notice these things; you don't want something like this to yank the reader out of a story he or she was enjoying.

(Not that anyone asked, but I'd recommend this three-page handgun primer aimed at writers as a good starting point.)
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