Anatomies, Susan McCarty
Aforementioned Productions, 2015
Reviewed by Kelsie Plesac
The epigraph, “Certain themes are incurable” (Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry) fittingly sits atop Susan McCarty’s short story collection, Anatomies. The stories, impressively diverse, are woven together by one thing: they cannot seem to shake their theme of the body, particularly pertaining to illness and injury. These intimate and personal themes get at the human truths of fear and triumph, and leave the reader as infected as each of the characters.
The injuries and illnesses in the stories are as varied as the stories themselves. McCarty creates characters such as an ACT prep tutor who has an uncomfortable and poignant meeting with the parents of one of his deceased clients; Tom, a gigolo whose clientele is women who wish to be “safe raped”; a woman who moves from New York back home to Iowa where her weight begins to fluctuate; the subjects of a reality television show who have decided to separate; a woman infected with a sexually transmitted virus who is faced with the choice of disclosing her virus to a next partner; two strangers who are living in the zombie apocalypse; Mel, who has suffered her first miscarriage; Will and Randy, two boys who have had heart transplants, one working much better than the other’s; Keohane, a construction worker whose son has run away; and D.R. and his brother Marshall, who has cancer. The collection is concluded by “Anamnesis: An Epilogue,” which, as the title suggests, recites a medical history.
While McCarty creates an astounding diversity of story and character, she does so with a very intimate and personal touch. The characters are familiar without being clichéd or overused. Their situations and their lives are unique, but in the end, they are much like the reader: imperfect, ill, afraid, uncomfortable, and getting by.
This is beautifully described in “Another Zombie Story.”
“They had seen and smelled and done things they wished they could scoop out of their brains and feed to the zombies. After the zombie apocalypse people tried their best not to think about those things. Some people learned to make lentil soup. It was impossible to say if this made them happy or not.”
McCarty uses illness and failing bodies to suggest the truth that we, as humans, inherently fail, and that we are often unaware or fearful of what we, or our bodies, are capable of doing. However, it is these imperfections and failures that makes us who we are, as is noted in “Anamnesis: An Epilogue.” The final lines of the medical history reads,
“[Scar from Greek eschara—place of fire / To scarify to scratch to make incisions to wound to subject to merciless criticism / to make incisions in the bark of to anoint / To make] a road.”
As your scars stay with you, so does Anatomies. It digs at and reveals intimate human truths that is at times frightening and uncomfortable but always important. Just as the stories cannot shake their themes of illness and injury the reader will not be able to shake Anatomies once they have read it. Not that they would want to.