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We never would have believed, before the dead girls started climbing out of their refrigerators, that people could be literally resurrected by sheer indignation.

Probably it should have been obvious. People have been brought back to life by far more ludicrous means and for far more ridiculous reasons.

If you need a moment of feminist recognition - a moment when you feel the relief of knowing someone else gets what you are low level angry about all the time - I highly recommend setting aside some time to read Sunny Moraine's "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams". Susan mentioned this story in Our Favourite Media of September 2015, and I'm so glad she did. I had heard absolutely nothing about this story anywhere else but I needed it in my life. Reminder to boost your favourite short fic, people.

Moraine's story is a piece of media criticism wrapped up in a sharp and solid fictional shell. A refrigerator appears in Pennsylvania; a dead girl climbs out of it. Across America, refrigerator after refrigerator appears. Women who have spent some time down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes, or y'know being alive and consuming media, are going to get the reference right off. Yes, Moraine's creepy short story is taking on that most despised of tropes - fridging the ladies.

Fridging is the practise of killing a character (usually a female, non-binary, chromatic or LGBTQ character, and including characters that have intersectional identities) in order to further a plot. Characters are usually fridged in order to give a male character (generally a cisgendered, straight and white male character) the motivation to pursue a goal or embark on a quest. Stories that hinge on an instance of fridging also tend to focus on the male character's emotional pain and desire for revenge rather than the life, feelings or pain of the character who gets fridged. So, while a story may ostensibly be powered by the death of a woman, or other underrepresented character, it is really concentrated on a straight, cis, white male character's' feelings, needs and journey. Fridging is a narrative indignity - an underrepresented character can't even die for attention because it's always all about the dudes.

Much has been written about the politics of fridging and of the way that media deals with killing female characters in general. It is difficult to avoid consuming stories that revolve around fridging. And I certainly have a lot of conflicted love for several stories which fridge female characters. My attachment to these stories may be an example of bad feminism but I'm very clear about the trope itself - I want it to set on fire. I could easily live without any new stories built around fridging. Let's make a pact, 2016. No dudely quests for redemption powered by fridging. Shake on it.

Much like Margaret Roland does in "Let's Tell Stories of the Deaths of Children", Moraine brings the criticism of a narrative trope into the heart of SFF by incorporating critique into their fiction. "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" takes on a common, anti-feminist trope that is often (but by no means exclusively) found in SFF media, and crafts an exquisitely creepy narrative that suggests society do away with the practise of building every story on the back of a dead girl.

The unnamed, unidentified narrator of Moraine's story chronicles the appearance, and progression, of the host of dead girls. As the details of this world, now swarmed with risen dead women, are related there is plenty of opportunity for the story to comment on the problems and construction of fridging. Still, it likes to pick its moment carefully. It may seem strange to call a story about dead girls who climb out of refrigerators subtle, but "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" is incredibly subtle and selective about providing overt commentary of our society's attachment to dead girl media. There are just a handful of breakout comments from the narrator which sound like the writer underscoring and expanding the critique of the main theme. 'We never saw the refrigerators. Eventually we gathered that they were everywhere, but we never actually saw them until the dead girls started climbing out of the[m].' And later:

That’s the thing, actually. There are exceptions: girls with horrific traumatic injuries, girls missing limbs, girls who were clearly burned alive. A lot of those last. But for the most part the flesh of the dead girls tends to be undamaged except for the small evidences of what did them in, and there’s always something about those things which is oddly delicate. Tasteful. Aesthetically pleasing.
As a rule, dead girls tend to leave pretty corpses.

Yes, don't they just. My personal favourite comment though has to be 'Rumor has it dead girls surrounded Joss Whedon’s house three months ago and haven’t left, and have decisively resisted all attempts to have them removed.'

Overall though, "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" relies on its story's content and its reader, rather than any exposition from its narrator, to illuminate the problems of writing dead girls into refrigerators. Take for example the way the story opens:

At 2:25 am on a quiet Friday night on a deserted country road in southeastern Pennsylvania, the first dead girl climbed out of her refrigerator.

So the story goes.

This is a catchy and succinct piece of writing full of specific detail about the setting. It's lovely art in its own way. However, look at the way Moraine later has the narrator flesh out the story of that girl on the road:

Okay: the official story goes that the first dead girl stood on that deserted country road on that quiet Friday night for quite some time. She stood motionless, listening to thepat-pat sound of her own blood dripping onto the blacktop. Not listening for her heartbeat, which was not there, nor for her breathing – which was not there either. She was listening to other things: wind, leaves, owls, fox scream, sighing of distant cars. It was a quiet night. That’s the story.

The story goes that the dead girl palmed blood out of her eyes and looked down at her sticky fingers, as if considering them carefully – in their context, in their implications. In the slick undeniability of what was still flowing out of her, like inside her was a blood reservoir which would take thousands of years to run dry. Like she was a thing made only to bleed.

And the story also goes that at some point, after studying the fact of her blood to her own satisfaction, the dead girl dropped her hands to her sides and started to walk.

This description of the event is much more focused on the girl. It pushes the reader to see her not just as 'the first dead girl' from the opening sentence but as a physical being with senses, motivation and direction.

In the first the girl is a contrasting detail which enhances the description of the setting by both artistically agreeing with and disrupting the landscape she appears in. The surprising fact that the dead girl climbs out of the refrigerator is supposed to be the key factor. However, the exact same artistic effect could be achieved by inserting an unanimated corpse into the scene. In this second piece of writing the girl is still dead but she is also presence that cannot be ignored.In the second piece of writing it is vital that the girl be listening, considering, moving in order for the writing to produce the full effect of that section. With the contrast between these two pieces of writing, and without having the narrator directly comment on how poorly some stories write women, Moraine gives a masterclass in the ways of writing not only dead girls but living female characters. As veronikelly-mars wrote recently in Girl Pain:

I’m tired of women, all women, get shoved into a corner so that men can write stories about them, where they aren’t fully fleshed, flawed, complex, nuanced individuals but rather, a dreamy blowup doll that exists for a man to have an adventure or come to some life-altering realization.

Yep, me too. And writers who create these kinds of male fantasies could learn from reading Moraine's story.

While "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" is not exactly a feminist revenge narrative - these dead girls only attack if they are directly threatened - its atmosphere of seriously unsettling weirdness certainly subtextually hints that there are consequences for writing stories on the bodies of dead girls. As the narrator says, What they didn’t seem to want, at least initially, was to hurt people'. Although that 'initially' hangs in the air for the reader, its promise of simple vengeance and bodily harm never materialises. However, one of the first girls described in the story derails a train just by appearing on the tracks in a refrigerator. A girl appears on Anderson Cooper's show and stares at him while he attempts to extract something that will make her understandable to his viewers:

Look into that diamond-point stare and you see the most terrifying kind of intelligence possible: the intelligence of someone who understands what happened, who understands what was done to them, who understands everything perfectly. Perfectly like the keen of the edge of a razor blade.

She’s aware. She just doesn’t register, because to her it isn’t noteworthy. She doesn’t care.

These dead girls, it becomes apparent, are a manifestation of radical female revolution: they witness; they don't register things that seem unimportant like the public's questions about them; they ignore; they defend themselves when attacked or asked to move; they unsettle; they are silent; they take up space; they go to public places without paying; they refuse to move. In one particularly amusing and imaginative moment, they file onto an airplane, stand silently in the aisles and make it impossible for the cabin crew to serve drinks. They are 'Dangerous pretty like a carrion goddess' and in many ways they sound like feminist icons. This is a point which Moraine anticipates with the introduction of 'Dead girl fandom. There’s a fiercely celebratory aspect to it. Dead girl gifsets with Taylor Swift lyrics. Dead girl fic.' I can imagine certain writers creating stories about these girls. I can well imagine certain people being the women who 'meet that gaze and see something they’ve been waiting for their entire lives.'

Genuinely, stop me before I quote the whole damn glorious thing.

The easy ending to this story would be one of triumph; dead girls as feminist symbols that push a society to constantly focus on violence against women. Instead, the story's ending attempts to complicate this picture by introducing the idea that the dead girls 'might turn out to be easier to ignore than we thought.' Here it reflects our humanity's tendency to face an issue only to quickly forget it even as the manifestation of that issue continues to stand in front of us. Is it enough to be a dead girl standing out in the open or can the public get used to even the most unsettling sights if they persist for long enough? The final lines of this story are a gut punch rather than a feminist celebration but I like them for their honest evaluation of the world

There are some details of "Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" that don't quite follow through for me. The narrator references 'the official story' a few times but it's unclear what effect this is supposed to have on the reader except to remind them to question stories. Perhaps this general point is the point? The story mentions that the girls don't seem to want to hurt anyone 'at first', and this threat is left lingering and unconfirmed. The reference to the women not demanding witnesses at first is also left hanging without any closure. So there are a few rough spots in this story's craft. Still, it's a taut story with an excellent grasp of pacing and descriptive effect. Which is more than you can say for many other stories about girls stuffed into refrigerators.

"Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams" is available for free at Cyborgology.

Date: 2015-12-25 05:45 am (UTC)
biting_moopie: (kurt wink by blasthisass on lj)
From: [personal profile] biting_moopie
I don't know what else to say but WHOA. This sounds incredible.


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