Speculative Short Fiction Deserves Love discussion

Individual Stories > Catcall

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
Yeah, this probably will be polarizing. I think there's an interesting contrast to be seen between this story and Sam Miller's The Heat Of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History, which appeared in Uncanny a few months ago.

message 2: by Outis (new)

Outis | 49 comments I don't know what's supposed to be polarizing about this.
Sure, I can make out an implicit suggestion that God might not like interracial finger-touching or kids driving a car to school. But the least weird thing I can imagine is that some people might be offended by a main character who's into retributive justice. But it seems that this would cover like the majority of cultural output over all media in that mag's culture. Or if not the majority, something not far off.
So is the issue that people might feel the characters aren't realistic? But my assumption would be that if you can buy The Wire for instance, you can buy this.
What is it then?

message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
Outis wrote: "I don't know what's supposed to be polarizing about this.
Sure, I can make out an implicit suggestion that God might not like interracial finger-touching or kids driving a car to school. But the le..."

I'm not sure what God has to do with it at all.

message 4: by Outis (new)

Outis | 49 comments The story talks about God at more than one juncture.
Maybe you didn't notice it because you or people around you do it all the time.

message 5: by Sarah (last edited Aug 09, 2015 12:23PM) (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
Outis wrote: "The story talks about God at more than one juncture.
Maybe you didn't notice it because you or people around you do it all the time."

There are three mentions of god. One is just a "God, no" epithet- colloquial. One is figurative, in reference to the guy harassing her. The third is "I can’t pick and choose, can’t play God" - which, despite the capital G still feels figurative.

Most of the rest is talk of karma and power.

message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
I agree about the lack of nuance. We get Bryan as the only exception, and then as collateral damage. Is it really any man who touches her who gets clobbered by the end? Doctors? Cashiers? Are there no gay guys in her school? Is it the chromosome that does the damage? Would a jerk of a transman get hurt if he touched her? Why did her father only lose his hand, when everybody else (including Bryan) was killed?

The reason I suggested reading The Heat of Us is because it's also a story of sudden power in the hands of the wronged parties, but it was far more effective in my book.

Misha, as you said, this reads as pure revenge fantasy. The strokes are broad.

message 7: by Outis (new)

Outis | 49 comments I didn't take the story to be painting the entire "male gender" with a broad brush.
There are male characters she doesn't hate and has no reason to hate, not to mention all the men in the background who don't get a name (mind the length). It's not only Bryan. And even if it was, this is only a portrayal of a particular (sub)culture which has serious issues. Also, the portrayal of the women of that culture is quite bleak as well.
I think the author is to be commended for her political correctness. She took care that the story would not be about misogyny and revenge to the exclusion of all else. In spite of the length and of my relative unfamiliarity with the author's culture, the social problems depicted struck me as making sense as a whole (racism, patriarchal religion, sports and so forth).
The one character which didn't convince me and struck me as two-dimensional was the poseur. I figure he was intended as comic relief.

I think more nuance would have been needed if the story was about Nazism because it's in my mind a more serious topic, and unfortunately still a relevant one.

message 8: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
Misha wrote: "I think because I made the reference to Inglorious Basterds? Outis seems to be responding to my mention that a revenge fantasy about Nazis wouldn't require nuance in the same way that I wanted more..."

Ah, yes. Deleted my comment.

message 9: by Bunny (last edited Aug 09, 2015 02:52PM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments I see the story a little differently. I think that the idea was to begin with something that appears to be a straight revenge fantasy. But then to gradually transition into a horror story, as she learns that her new power doesn't differentiate and it will kill or maim any male person who touches her, even if she wanted to be touched.

I'm not sure the transition is effective enough (or clear enough!)to make the end realization horrifying in the way I think the author maybe wanted it to be. Part of the reason may well be that most of the male characters are too one dimensional - which works fine in a revenge fantasy but then backfires when it tries to become something more.

Then again, I'm not sure any of the characters are all that multi dimensional. I don't get any real sense of the Mom being anything but tired and well meaning, even the protagonist seems to me to be sort of one note. I feel like its got some good elements but its not all that accomplished a story really.

In the initial part of the story I was strongly reminded of some of the potboiler short stories Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote for the Forerunner back around the turn of the last century. Especially "When I was a Witch."


Those stories were often dashed off quickly to fill a gap in an edition, or pay a pressing bill, and they lack a certain amount of depth. But they can still be fun, witty clever diversions. I think part of what's missing in Catcall is it can't decide if it wants to be deep or shallow.

message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
I agree that the protagonist is one note as well. She doesn't seem to have interests or any identity. The description of her hiding-clothes might put her in with the outsider-kids, but she doesn't seem to be part of any group or have any friends. When she gets a chance, she puts on what she describes as pretty clothes, like shedding a skin. But she isn't part of any group then either. It's her idea of what pretty clothes are - but did she just have them in her closet waiting?

message 11: by Bunny (last edited Aug 09, 2015 06:16PM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Yeah who is she other than a reaction to other people? Does she like to cook or hike or play the mandolin? Does she have ambitions? Does she hate old movies or love grilled cheese sandwiches? Why is she studying Calculus, is it an interest or just an assignment? Good question about where the clothes came from too. Did she have them in her closet, and if so, why since she didn't wear those kinds of clothes? Did someone give them to her? Or did she go buy them?

Again it goes to my feeling that the story couldn't quite pick a tone. Either more particular elements so I feel like I know this person as something other than generic frustrated teen girl, or else make her fully an archetype and go that way.

All of which does not mean I see nothing of value in this story. I do think it has some interesting things to say about rage. I also notice that within the story there's no hint that either the narrative voice or Maria herself is at all taken aback or made uncomfortable by her pleasure in the deaths of the boys in these sort of cinematic spectacular ways. Which argues either for a certain level of desensitization or an impressive depth of suppressed fury, or both?

At the end she says, "I'm as much of a monster as they are." Which is true. The only thing that separated her from them was power. Once she got it she was also arbitrary and unthinking in her use of it.

message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
I feel like the fact that her father survived was a pulled punch. If Bryan was collateral damage, how is it that her father survived? Maybe because we would have then needed to see actual mourning? She's very emotionally reserved - I think that's a suit of armor as much as a hoodie - but even in her own head there doesn't seem to be anything but clinical observation.

message 13: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 392 comments Mod
Oh, good point about the hand. But she didn't imagine Bryan dead, right?

message 14: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Good point about Bryan falling down the stairs and breaking his neck being a version of the "goons" falling out of an airplane and shattering.

message 15: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Not noticing a lot of polarization though.

message 16: by Scotty (new)

Scotty Weeks | 11 comments Yeah, I get what this story is trying to do, but I don't think it's very successful. I do like a good pulpy revenge fantasy, and a King Midas layer is fun, but it just doesn't work for me.

The problem I saw was that for a good revenge fantasy there usually has to be some crescendo when it comes to whatever it is that the character is taking revenge for. Instead we have a general situation where lots of men in a girl's life are creeps. Then she pops a lightbulb. Then she kills a football player.Then the love interest dies. Then she makes peace with herself and goes about her business with her newfound powers.

At least that was my read.

message 17: by Bunny (last edited Aug 11, 2015 11:22AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Does she actually make peace with herself though? I'm not sure. I agree that the story sort of rambles about without really developing a clear arc. For me that lack carries through to the ending as well. I feel like there's some good elements here, but they don't quite gel into anything that is larger than the sum of its parts.

I feel like if I'm going to take delight in revenge fantasies it has to be more clearly a fantasy you know? The bad guys have to be more cartoonish so I don't feel sorry for them when they get hit with mallets or dropped off a cliff. I don't feel sorry for Wiley Coyote because I don't actually believe in Wiley Coyote.

Or if I'm going to believe in the characters then I need to be allowed to be horrified by them being gruesomely killed. Which doesn't mean they can't be horribly killed but then we're looking at something darker in the person killing them.

message 18: by Scotty (last edited Aug 11, 2015 11:27AM) (new)

Scotty Weeks | 11 comments See, I think the guys are in the uncanny valley of cartoonish. They're just tropes of bad behavior without going over the top to the point where you find yourself caught up in the fantasy.

(Editing to say that I agree with Bunny about he way the bad guys were portrayed, and the notes about the ending.)

message 19: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Uncanny valley of cartoonish is a perfect way to describe it!

message 20: by Bunny (last edited Aug 11, 2015 12:13PM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments I think one of the reasons The Heat of Us uses the lashing out against oppressors in a Carrie esque kind of a way more effectively is that it shows this buildup of pain without any outlet to the point where it lets loose in this unexplained burst of fury. But in Catcall I don't quite get the same sense. I know it can happen, I've been shaking with anger before at some rando jackass - but somehow in this story I don't quite... I dunno. I believe it intellectually but I don't actually feel it. Which is extra weird because I've actually felt it in my own life.

message 21: by Terry (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments Bunny wrote:
I see the story a little differently. I think that the idea was to begin with something that appears to be a straight revenge fantasy. But then to gradually transition into a horror story, as she learns that her new power doesn't differentiate and it will kill or maim any male person who touches her, even if she wanted to be touched.

It seems to me that Maria’s character arc is relatively plausible and understandable right up to the last scene. She finds she has this power, she uses the power for revenge, but finds, conventionally, that power corrupts. Bryan’s death is the tragic end of her descent:

I thought I was karma and revenge.
But Bryan was good and sweet, and now he’s gone.
Because of me.
Because we touched while we were eating organic snack chips.
I can’t control this thing inside me.
I can’t pick and choose, can’t play God.
I’m as much of a monster as they are.
Maybe life was better when I was hiding.

The story could end there, and be that tragedy. Ah, but then there’s the last scene. Maria is indeed hiding:

On Friday afternoon, I walk out to my car. I’m in a hoodie and stompy boots, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses and gloves and big headphones.
It’s the only way.
I don’t want to touch anyone, accidentally make a connection. I can’t control my thoughts, can’t control my hate, but I can control who I touch and who I let touch me. I want to be good. For Bryan, and for guys like Bryan. I never really got to touch him, and now I never want to touch anybody ever again.

But then ‘some dude in a football jersey’ grabs her, and all bets are off:

I lick my lips, smile, and take off my gloves.
I don’t know his name. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen him before. Every guy in a jersey or a letterman’s jacket looks the same to me. They always have. And they’ve always called me names. I step close and pat him gently on the cheek.

And not just him:
And I can see it, in my mind. The whole stadium full of people, screaming in a riot of flames and smoke and blood. Collapsed bleachers, locked gates, no survivors.

This is the point where the story turns from revenge fantasy and its consequence to madness and horror. I think Bunny’s right, except for the ‘gradual transition’ part.

Bunny, in another post, calls “The Heat of Us” Carrie-esque. I think one could compare Catcall to Carrie (without comparing Dawson to King), with the difference that Tommie (Bryan) dies before the prom rather than in the conflagration Carrie (Maria) sets off.

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