Review of Stephanie Malia Morris, “The Chariots, the Horsemen”, Apex Magazine 110 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.
A young woman begins ascend to heaven during the church potluck, and is barely caught in time by her mother. The same thing happened to the girl’s mother, when she was that age. Her great-grandmother ascended as well, though her grandfather, a preacher, remains firmly earthbound. The women restrain their own ascension to please him, or at least to mitigate his anger.
There’s a lot packed into this fairly short (1,650 words) story, but at its heart I’d say it’s about women giving over control of their bodies in order to court male approval. Their bodies naturally want to lift off the ground and fly away, but they resist because a male relative, an authority figure, disapproves. It triggers his own feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, which the women must protect him from. They go so far as to chain themselves to the furniture and gain copious amounts of weight to rid themselves of this unwanted tendency.
I was uncomfortable with the use of weight gain as a method of controlling their ascension. It makes sense that maybe if they became heavy enough, they wouldn’t life off the ground, but it also felt a little fat-phobic to me. I don’t believe it was intended that way, however, and your mileage my vary.
It’s interesting to me that this story is couched in Christian imagery and terms, when it feels so earthy and embodied. I don’t get the sense that either woman is particularly pious, no matter how their society has framed the phenomenon that lifts them into the air. Despite that, the religious overtones make an intuitive sort of sense for the story, and work well in it.
This is a strong story with an empowering ending, and I highly recommend it as a quick read.