‘In the cut. From vagina. A place to hide. To hedge your bet. But someplace safe, someplace free from harm’
by Harry Wilding
Content Warning: Discussions of sexual violence and gender based violence
Susanna Moore’s brutal novel, full of explicit violence and sex, was originally released in 1995, but its depictions of misogyny, the police force and victim blaming has kept it unfortunately relevant for a re-release in the post-Me Too era – as if it was written in the midst of the movement.
The novel’s narrator is Frannie, a divorced 34-year-old English teacher in New York, who gets mixed up in a murder investigation. One evening, she witnesses a woman fellating a man in the basement of a bar and later discovers that the same woman had been murdered that same night. Despite becoming entangled in a sexual relationship with the lead detective on the case, and even suspecting he may have been the man in the basement and/or the woman’s killer, she refrains from revealing herself as a witness.
Many reviewers, in 1995 as well as now, have not been able to see past the sex and the violence. Moore seems to have anticipated this in meta moments such as when Frannie gives her students certain books to read: ‘they would be so sensibly outraged by the beating, murdering and dismemberment of women that they might not be able to see the intelligence in the books.’ Perhaps the sex and violence worries some people more because it is within a story that so explicitly shows that women can have sexual desire, or maybe because Frannie seems to put herself in harm’s way throughout.
Danger and desire are closely linked at times – where episodes include the voyeurism of watching the woman and the man in the basement, sex in the police station, and walking home alone at night. But in this line of thought lurks victim blaming. Frannie says at one point ‘I’m not careful enough. I shouldn’t take the subway. Shouldn’t talk to strangers. Should lock the door… I refuse to be intimidated. I will be careful, more careful than I have been. I will practise a more sustained, more attentive listening, but I am not going to change the way that I live.’ It’s something that still comes up in today’s discourse around women’s safety – that it is their responsibility rather than the man’s; the survivor’s rather than the attacker’s.
Similarly to rewatching Thelma and Louise 30 years on, one of the most shocking elements of the novel is how little has changed since the nineties in regards to victim blaming, as well as the general misogyny and the difficulty of reporting sexual violence to the police. There has been a more positive shift in the conversation and in certain cases but, as previously mentioned, this novel could have been written now with very little alteration. As Moore herself has said, the book offers no consolation, but it’s a terrifically written novel that, despite not giving answers, asks some brutally important questions.
About the Contributor
Harry Wilding is a broadband communist who used to make short films. He has started writing prose and poetry again instead due to the smaller budgets involved. He is studying for a Creative Writing MA in Nottingham and is gradually beginning to get some work published (see: https://harrywildingwrites.wordpress.com/published-fiction).