Darling Endangered — short fiction by Carol Guess
reviewed by Krystal Languell
“Women are taught,” Marcella Durand writes, “with the lessons reinforced daily by television and movie fare, that to be present in a public space is to invite humiliation, violation and death.” In a short essay at Jacket2, Durand addresses the myth of danger inherent in a woman walking alone. Carol Guess’s new collection of short fiction, Darling Endangered, published by Brooklyn Arts Press, inhabits the perceived need for a woman’s constant vigilance by way of dramatic juxtaposition. Here, she draws upon the gurlesque’s mode of destroying an outdated binary with compression: girly and tough or, in this case, public and private, safety and danger coexisting.
The micro-stories in this collection track a persona who graduates from the Central High School of Needle Trades (which sounds like an ideal rehearsal space for the dangers of adulthood) to move to the city and later the suburbs. The narrator observes the potential for violence one encounters simply by inhabiting the world (“Pain was a story we couldn’t explain, and night, how it held us handcuffed to pink beds.”). She is more often observer than victim, and maintains composure when violence comes closer:
Once the curtains caught fire, but I knew how to douse things out.
Guess demonstrates what Durand argues: though violence is real, being damaged by it is not inevitable.
The book is engaged in a critique of hierarchy issued through cold observation of the narrator’s environment; yet, the narrator holds herself responsible for her own actions too:
We tossed rocks at windows—no, ugly girls.
Maybe charm got confused with harm by someone like me or maybe me.
This element of reflection, whereby she implicates herself, is necessary for making these pieces matter. Information that might otherwise be reported neutrally is activated, and becomes an indictment of the reader as well for their complicity with the negative behavior of the narrator.
Darling Endangered wants to understand danger, and so seeks it out by approaching the scene of a crime:
From the roof we imagined the white spires of Humboldt, looking for the farmhouse where Brandon Teena was killed.
The 1993 rape and murder of Brandon Teena, the subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry, continues to resonate in queer and trans communities, and when Guess mentions the hate crime, then by contrast more domestic problems in the previous lines become benign.
Guess’s work approaches the edge of territory dark and unmanageable, and makes the impossibility of control her true subject.
Interested in the deepest problems of the body, Guess’s fiction enacts Virginie Despentes’ non-fiction work, King Kong Theory (Feminist Press, 2010). Despentes writes, “As a girl, I am more King Kong than Kate Moss.” So is this book of lyrical fiction, as in the piece “Funeral Plus Aviation”:
Yes I look through peepholes yes—yes I go where I’m not wanted. If they press me up against a tree I’ll bite my lips until they’re bloody. I won’t name names…
Danger does exist. Random acts of violence occur, but when we create our own King Kong Theory for navigating society we are no longer frail, no longer Fay Wray of the sexy scream. Guess writes:
Drunk, drinking, or out of beer you steered past rape vans…
Guess’s narrator claims that we can control our lives. Durand writes that she’s “learned to become invisible and in turn falsely empty the city of people,” to turn off discomfort, turn off the speculative part of the imagination and walk wherever she wishes. Darling Endangered documents a female experience capable of seeing the danger and sometimes being the danger, but also capable of walking right past it.