Recently I had a reading slump. Everything I picked up annoyed me, or was awful (the awful ones were sometimes full of the casual sexism I would generally just shoulder barge past on the way to a good time). All the books just needed to go over there
for a while, before I imprisoned them in a chest and set them to float upon the ocean for ever more.
Now I hate reading slumps. I have many other ways to fill my down time, but if a couple of weeks go by and I haven’t had at least half an hour to settle with a print based story I get edgy and my brain hits the ‘if only I didn’t have to spend so much time at work I’d get so much done’ vortex. I imagine a lot of us try to keep ourselves away from, because that whirling follow me down hole only leads to doom. So, I needed something GOOD to pull me back from the ever alluring edge of self-pity. I needed something guaranteed. So, I turned to Slice of Cherry’, second novel from Dia Reeves, the super star young author whose blood thirsty, complexity filled debut novel 'Bleeding Violet'
rocked my world last year with its reminder that in the world of fiction typical morality is over rated and it’s fun when scary monsters kill people.
In ‘Slice of Cherry’
Reeves returns readers to the town of Portero where Hanna, the heroine of ‘Bleeding Violet’ first encountered monsters, her mother and the deadly Mortmaine. Reeves doesn’t pick up Hanna’s story where it ended. Instead she tells the story of two new characters, focusing on Fancy and Kit, the daughter of Portero’s notorious serial killer, The Bonesaw Killer. Serial killing sisters – epic!
Fancy, awakes to find an unknown man standing over her. Before she can work out how best to hurt him for invading her personal space her sister Kit has whacked him over the head with a paper weight. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about Reeves past two novels is that her heroines regularly use of violence, confronting cultural expectations about women in several ways. At the beginning of ‘Bleeding Violet’ Hanna tells the reader that she avoided being institutionalised by attacking her aunt with a lamp. At the beginning of ‘Slice of Cherry’ the girls protect themselves, again with violence, from an attacker who may seem more of a serious threat than Hanna’s aunt1
. Although programs like Buffy have popularised the trend for women to bring defensive violence into the domestic, every day sphere and use domestic objects as non-traditional, funny, yet effective weapons I still tend to find it...idk provoking, surprising...exceptionally exciting... to see real life ladies defend themselves using force. I take that as an indication that outside of entertainment media, cultural norms still dominate the ‘Exactly how do ladies behave again?’ narrative and I need more physical, defensive lady business to combat it.
That’s not to say that ‘Slice of the Cherry’ is some kind of positive message book, with added violence. After protecting themselves, the girls drag the intruder down to the cellar where their father took his victims. Kit proceeds to keep him as a kind of grisly pet, renaming him Franken and cutting him all over just for the fun of it. It seems the girls, especially Kit who permanently carries a switchblade, have inherited their father’s love of slicing2
. There’s nothing really positive to be learned from Fancy and Kit’s usual deep embrace of violence and the macabre (although it is nice to see stupid positive discrimination arguments confronted, as Fancy and Kit prove that girls can be just as uncompromisingly evil as boys). I can see why that might have kept some reviewers from connecting with Fancy and Kit, one of the things I like most about the sisters is that they display no real alignment with any recognisable moral code.
Kit is the first of the sisters who inflicts pain and her blood thirsty, unstable behaviour at the beginning of the book seem to set her up as the bad sister. I assumed she would drag down Fancy, the sister who seems to have the only conscious. Although Fancy gets enjoyment from dissecting people and animals, she seems reluctant to kill in the early chapters of the book. There are a couple of times when she tries to find ways to get Kit to compromise and just inflict pain, rather than kill her victims, for example when they first tie up Franken in the cellar she encourages her to keep him alive. Such behaviour seems to signal goodness.
Franken then asks Fancy to let him go, because he can see that she’s good. Fancy replies:
“Daddy’s locked up, so we never see him. Madda had to start working twelve-hour shifts to support us, so we never see her, either. If Kit kills you, they’ll lock her up too, and then I won’t have anybody. That’s the only reason you’re alive. Because if I thought I could do it and not get busted, I’d kill you myself.”
Fancy looked away from the prowler’s horrified stare and finished threading the needle.
“I’m the Bonesaw Killer’s daughter,” she whispered, almost to herself. “Why would you ever think I was good?”
Fancy’s intervention keeps Kit from killing Franken, so it seems reasonable to assume that this is one of those defensive statements of bravado that reveals the angst and guilt of a good character who cannot forgive themselves for not being better. Ha, well the jokes on reasonable expectations because Fancy’s statement turns out to be true. Fancy isn’t good by any stretch of liberal book morals and she does like hurting people, especially people who threaten to attract Kit’s affections. Once she realises her sister has been sneaking into the cellar to spend romantic time with their captive, she becomes less concerned with keeping Franken alive.
Fancy is a little bit of a brat. In the beginning Kit’s snarky comments about how they’ll do ‘ “Whatever you want. Like we always do.” ‘ seem hypocritically un-aware, because Fancy is the one who isn’t interested in killing and Kit is the one pushing her. As the book moves on though it becomes clear that Fancy does like to get her own way. Fancy finds a way to enter and control a magical kingdom that she calls the happy place, where the sisters can hide the bodies of their victims and kill without making a mess. Once there Fancy promises Kit she can go to with her knife, but each time she puts these people through a magical, more inventive form of killing that she controls. Kit gets to do nothing and Fancy gets her way, causing Kit to call her ‘Maharaja’. Fancy’s earlier attempts to restrain Kit now appears much less virtuous; just another episode where she seeks to control her sister.
It’s actually Kit who begins to pull away from killing and cutting, while Fancy grows more interested in the murders. That’s not to say that Kit is ever good, as readers outside of Portero might understand the word. After they capture Franken and Kit kills a rude, but otherwise innocent cashier. This causes the sisters start to pick their victims more carefully, making the move to killing bad people. Their plan may sounds like Dexter Morgan’s moral serial killer code, but the girls are too genuinely murder happy to spend any time developing this strategy for any kind of moral reasons. Fancy suggests appealing for ‘problems to solve’ through the hate mail their father receives because it guarantees a steady string of victims people already want dead. Both Kit and Fancy display the willingness to kill people who aren’t that villainous, even after they decide to just kill ‘bad’ people. Fancy even kills someone who asks for mercy. The sisters who are unnaturally close due to the isolation their father’s crimes transmit to them actually bond over their shared interest in murder.
The reason why Kit pulls away as Fancy becomes more interested in killing is because committing the murders keeps her isolated from other people, leaving her with just Fancy who seems to regard them as ‘practically the same person’. Kit objects to this and wants to be her own person, with other significant relationships in her life. Their father’s crimes have caused them to be shunned even by the blood thirsty citizens of Portero. Despite violently expressing her displeasure at their mother’s plans to split them up for the summer by sending them to separate creative classes Kit is the first sister to acquiesce. Through her lessons she finds pleasure in playing the piano, a solitary creative pursuit that her sister doesn’t share. She gets a boyfriend. She also comes into powers of her own. Fancy can conjure and control the happy place, but Kit finds out that she can settle corpses, by addressing their grievances. Meanwhile Fancy tries to pull Kit back into their exclusive world by pursuing more chances for murder, but her insistence on controlling Kit during these killings and making her enter Fancy’s ‘kingdom’ to kill just alienates her sister.
Eventually the good people of Portero start to validate the sister’s killing as good, useful acts (Portero is the craziest town in the universe and I don’t think readers are pushed into taking their word for it that what Fancy and Kit do is right, although the cautiously happy ending shows that Kit and Fancy aren’t characters that can be written off as total villains) and Kit and Fancy’s interests start to become similar again. Kit wants people to like them; Fancy wants her sister to kill with her. But obstacles continue to appear in the sisters’ relationship as Fancy remains unable to accept that her sister is a separate person and will form relationships with others. This theme, of sisters growing up and trying to define themselves as people and close relations is probably one of my favourite aspects of ‘Slice of Cherry’. Ladies, talking about things, taking their changing relationships with each other seriously – I like this.
So, Dia Reeves fan-girl, what bits weren’t you keen on? Readers need some balance you know.
I think I have to accept that I’m not a fan of the boys Reeves writes. I’ve just about come around to Wyatt from ‘Bleeding Violet’, but I did not like Ilan and Gabriel, the new boys in ‘Slice of Cherry’. They’re both extremely letchy and Ilan is overly persistent in his advances towards Fancy. Although I have been known to like my letchy, inappropriate guys I couldn’t get on with these guys who leer at girls they want to be with and talk about wanting to have sex with another girl, when the girl they are dating is present. I think I dislike Ilan so much, because he’s a space invader, he puts his arm around the back of Fancy’s chair uninvited and that’s a personal tic of mine. Don’t touch me dude. My feelings towards the boys changed quite a bit towards the end, when I found them more sympathetic and I was happy that they got the vengeance they were after, but as romantic partners for the twisted sisters they kind of suck (mostly Ian though, he really made my skin crawl in a way).3 4
1. Mileage may vary as to whether a creepy stalker dude is more threatening than a woman who wants to institutionalise a bipolar person who has visions
2. It’s never made clear that the girls inherited his killing streak, maybe finding out about him killing made them murder, or maybe there’s no link and these girls are just killers. The blurb talks says ‘It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill.’ which leaves it open to reader interpretation. I would find the idea that they inherited their dad’s interest in killing hard to believe, without some world specific logic to back it up.
3. I am aware that this acts as further proof that my entertainment morality is super warped – really a guy who puts his hand on the back of someone’s chair is creepier than serial killers?
4. See the comments of Thea’s review
for further reservations and her smart interpretation of Ilan and fancy’s relationship. Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers Good Books and Good Wine The Happy Nappy Bookseller