REVIEW: “With Lips Sewn Shut” by Kristi DeMeester

Review of Kristi DeMeeser, “With Lips Sewn Shut”, Apex Magazine 113 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

When girls are born, their lips are sewn shut to keep them silent, a prerequisite to making the fine lace that their families depend on for income. While boys run wild in the fields and under the night sky, girls stay inside, without even names. That is how it has always been, in the place where our narrator grows up.

Did that premise send a shiver down your spine? It should. This is one of the creepiest feminist fairy tales I’ve read in a long time, and I loved it. The tone is cold, but never barren. The narrator may not have learned to speak out loud, but she uses the emotional range of language beautifully.

There are subtle hints threaded throughout, suggestions of a wolfish, bestial nature within the boys, who grow into men. The details are vague, but the implication is clear, and it adds another layer to the plight of the girls. Without their mouths sewn shut, would they share this wildness? Is that why they must be silenced – to keep them domesticated? The story does not say one way or the other, but I like to think that it is, that sewing their mouths shut denies them their wolfish nature.

In a story about silence and names, it is fitting that nobody is referred to by name until the end, not even her brothers, who we are told do have them. The story is structured such that we do not need them, and it adds to the sense of universality that is often evoked by folklore. What changes at the end, you may ask? You’ll just have to read the story to find out.

REVIEW: “The Lightning Bird” by Kristi DeMeester

Review of Kristi DeMeester, “The Lightning Bird”,  Apex Magazine 100 (2017): [Read Online]. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

We learn two things from the very first sentence: Gable’s mother has died, and this story features magic. It’s hard to write about mother daughter relationships without being saccharine, and harder still to write about dead mothers without slipping into the maudlin, but DeMeester manages it here. Gable’s grief permeates the page, raw and messy with edges like broken glass.

The magic feels real. By that I mean that it isn’t a metaphor for grief – though it serves as a powerful tool to elucidate that emotion – and it isn’t tacked on. Gable is a tribal healer, diviner, and psychopomp for a community of South African immigrants living in Florida, a role and gift which she inherited from her mother, Uma. It is a part of who she is, part of the world sketched out for us. This is almost as much a story about her stepping into that adult role as it is about grief, but really they weave together, forming the warp and weft of the tale.

DeMeester weaves past and present together in a way that should be confusing, but is actually easy to follow. Gable’s memories of her mother, of growing up, and of one other girl in particular butt up against the main narrative, sometimes with white space as a cue, but often without it. Somehow this is not confusing, a testament to the author’s control.

The end is dark and strange, redolent of cycles and power.