Review of R. K. Kalaw’s, “The Date”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 20 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.
In “The Date” an unnamed, female narrator plucks up the courage to ask an enticing woman called Anna out to dinner. From the first description of Anna, where the narrator focuses on ‘the way she swayed, how the sun played off the velvet gleam of her exoskeleton’ it’s obvious that she is something other than human. It also becomes clear that she is direct, purposeful, and quite possibly dangerous. The narrator is well aware that she may, literally, get her head bitten off, but she chooses to pursue Anna anyway. As the story progresses, it’s easy to see why the narrator is so keen on this woman despite the imminent threat of death.
This story is concerned with the idea that women have to suppress their appetites in order to please men. The narrator explains that she’s used to playing a part when dating. ‘I wasn’t usually so forward,’ she says after asking Anna to dinner; ‘too much, too fast, and people bolted like gazelles.’ Selecting an outfit for her date, she discards a red dress in favour of an outfit which signals ‘I’m chill. I don’t need much, don’t take much, don’t need you.’ Anna, in contrast, is unafraid to take up space: laughing loudly, commanding people, and eating with gusto. She comes across as monstrous, and different, in this world of humans, with her ‘mandibles’ and ‘barbed’ arms. And she is a symbolic incarnation of characteristics leave real life women labelled as ‘monstrous’.
Despite having sought Anna out because she is ‘dazzling’, the narrator is unable to claim the same kind of space. She has a fear of being rejected for being ‘too much’, and this has been reinforced, repeatedly, by men. On her date with Anna, the narrator looks for a dish that is ‘small and innocuous’ because ‘Most men disliked it when I showed more hunger than they had…’ Anna laughs at this, orders them both rare steaks, and proceeds to tear hers apart ‘ripping a hunk off the bone.’; setting the narrator on a path to freedom by being herself, and granting the narrator the same freedom. ‘I’m not afraid of your appetites,’ Anna says.
It’s at this point that the story twists a little. Is the narrator, although dressed in human flesh, actually something else underneath? Are we talking about appetites or are we talking about <em>appetites</em>? “The Date” never confirms whether the narrator is inhuman, or whether she has just been suppressing a level of human desire that would be deemed ‘unseemly’ in a woman. Whichever way you read it, “The Date” is the vibrant story of a woman set free from binding social expectations by a ‘dazzling’ monster woman who could literally eat a man alive.
At the beginning of the story, the narrator says ‘It was my first time, dating a woman like her.’ And the fact that she only mentions dating men after that makes it sound like this is the narrator’s first date with a woman. The ending, where the two go off together ‘holding each other close, like lovers, like raptors,’ will put a huge grin on your face.