Book review - Unfortunate elements of my anatomy by Hailey Piper
“Unfortunate elements of my anatomy” is a great name for Hailey Piper’s collection of short stories. There’s Hailey’s underlining passion for Trans and Gay rights coming through in all the stories here, and the shorts span a wide range of genres and styles. From witches to cosmic entities, from mythical creatures to secret societies, Piper leads us from one provocative story to the next.
I use the word “provocative” very carefully because it is a perfect word for Piper’s intentions.
Speaking as a novelist, short stories are a whole different creature to what I normally read. A short story must by its very nature condense a novel into an idea, to be written as precisely and concisely as possible. Piper manages that here in all of her stories in this collection, but manages to do so with a general underlining theme, reflected in the very title of the book itself, that of giving the reader a taste of the fear, horror, emotional backlash and prejudice trans and gay people live through as a part of their everyday lives.
I think it’s a universal comment for authors that you should write what you know, and Piper (to my mind and understanding of the theme) manages to tell her story through varying creatures and witches and situations in the book. I believe.
It’s magnificent. And heart-breaking.
I used the word provocative earlier, a word that best describes these stories – stories that provoke you to re-evaluate your own world view and how that world can be seen through the eyes of someone that “does not fit” a mould enforced on them by society. Each story takes themes of that general state of prejudice and highlights the affected person’s reactions. Themes run throughout the collection, that of womanhood, mistaken identity, denial of own self, birth and rebirth. It’s great feminist literature, and rightly so – White Male-dominated society has been pretty poorly led up until now. It’s way past time to embrace diversity and stop being so damn stubborn.
It would be a disservice to Hailey to go through the entire collection and say my thoughts on each piece, each has its own distinct voice, highlights and perspectives, but here are a few of my thoughts on pieces I really liked, or that made me think long and hard:
The law of conservation of death.
This is a tough one. The self-destruction of personal self in the attempt to defeat another being’s obsession with possession of your soul, is an attempt to describe denying power from someone else over your body and mind. I worry, because It reminds me of rape/abuse victims (here a murder victim), with their relentless obsession of "property", that someone can "belong" to someone else. It might also be a social commentary on marriage, the difference between "giving yourself" to someone else (property-related), and "committing yourself" to someone else (which retains the power of individual commitment and "power of choice") Regardless of my musings, I didn't feel satisfaction at the end that she had freed herself of his obsession, because she destroyed herself to do it, the exact opposite of what we need to tell victims – that they are worth more, that they need to live to rise above that false claim of property, and whilst I feel happy she is free of his obsession, this left a bitter taste for me. Which is exactly Piper’s intention of course. Dammit.
Demon's of particular taste.
Great short, it has humour, is intelligent, and cowabunga! Great stuff.
This was good, a believable monster, an other-worldly set of rules to its victim entrapment and the core issues of identity at its heart.
Crones in their larval state.
Really loved this one, the idea of witches being held as prisoners for reform is just wonderful. The juxtaposition of the orange-clad prisoners and their witch selves was just fantastic – orange suit witches! Bam! And real thought went into the requirements for spells, just great storytelling. Way too short. Make this into a book, please.
The burning of the blueberries.
So this was definitely a high point. I liked the fact that Hailey refrained from stating the mc is trans, having been female and now male. I thought the story set up was good, the society believable, the MC's reactions real, and the ending how it had to be. This felt very complete. Also, the writing was very much in voice. This is the core of this book, right here, and deservedly so.
Recitation of the first feeding.
Love the idea of the court that eats. Just a great, great idea, the grandma knowing and explaining, just spellbinding. Love the a la carte joke. "And the absence of a memory can haunt, too." Is a stand-out line. This reminded me a little of Pan’s labyrinth of course, but that also made me squirm.
It’s hard not to get philosophical with Piper’s works, and collected here, under the heading she has given them, doubly so. But even without the underlying messages inserted into each piece, I think this is a great collection and a wonderful collage of Hailey’s many voices and perspectives. This is a solid 5 stars, and time well spent.
Full disclosure: I received this book as an ARC from Seventh Terrace and Hailey Piper, but all opinions and critique views expressed are unbiased, honest, and my own.