Review of Jaap Boekestein, “Beauty Mortis”, in Myths, Monsters, and Mutations, edited by Jessica Augustsson (JayHenge Publications, 2017): 147-164. — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)
The story starts off with a rather uncomfortable scene of a man exploiting a scantily clad young woman for his own purposes, sending her down to lie on the ice of a frozen stream. “What else could she do?” the narrator asks, and that one question encompasses all that is wrong with the power dynamics between men and women in much of modern society. In this story, we see a woman playing along with those dynamics because the alternate, because what would happen if she refuses to, is so much worse. Except it isn’t: Whether she refuses or she obeys, the end result is the same. She still ends up a corpse at the hand of a man.
If I were reading for pleasure, I probably would’ve stopped reading the story at this point; stories like this are simply not stories for me. I want to see stories that push back against these power structures, that criticise these dynamics, that try to subvert them. But I was reading for reviewing, so let’s plow on.
This is one of the longer stories in the anthology, and it pushes stylistic boundaries more than some of the others. The story is told through a series of numbered vignettes, but they are all out of order; as soon as one realises that one has gone from scene 1 to scene 8, and that the next one after is scene 2, one must face the question: Do I read the scenes in numeric order? Or in the order they are printed?
I opted for numeric order, but only got as far as 6 when I couldn’t find scene 7. So then I went back and reread it in printed order, 1, 8, 2, 3, 10, 4, 11, 5, 6. In the end, I liked the story; it was well executed. I just wish the opening scene didn’t have to play upon the horrors that it does.