Soft Bodies

Illustration by Mayra Tuncel. Afterward, Lila felt washed clean. Her face was as bare of makeup as a child’s and her insides had a drained, weightless quality, as though wrung of excess moisture. The hospital bed was stacked with so many pillows, pads, and blankets, it was as though she were floating just slightly above the furniture. The pale gray light also had an aura of suspension. It could have signified morning, afternoon, or evening.

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1.4 On the Cover

Donna the chimp. Photo by Victoria Horner. Donna is a biologically female chimpanzee who exhibits many traits associated with her male counterparts; she likes to wrestle, walks with a “swagger,” and can erect her body hair. In Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist, Frans de Waal describes Donna as “a largely asexual gender nonconforming individual.” But why should we care? As S.C. Cornell writes in her thoughtful critique of zoological essentialism (pp. 36–39),

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We’re All Gonna Die

Oakland-based artist Wendy MacNaughton spent 2017 at the Zen Project Hospice in San Francisco, sitting with residents, listening to them reflect on death. She wrote down what she heard and drew what she saw. “Drawing is a way we can look closely at something we might otherwise be afraid to look at,” is one lesson in How to Say Goodbye. MacNaughton gave away the first edition of two hundred books, asking each recipient to pass

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‘We All Want Impossible Things: A Novel’ By Catherine Newman

Harper, November 2022, 224 pp. We All Want Impossible Things, the first novel for adults by Catherine Newman, traces two best friends—Ash and Edi—in their last few weeks together as Edi dies of ovarian cancer. We open on Edi, Ash, and Edi’s husband learning that there is nothing more the doctors can do and that there are no beds available in inpatient hospice. Home care is out of the question; Edi’s young child has been

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‘Mother Tongue: The Surprising History of Women’s Words’ By Jenni Nuttall

Viking, August 2023, 304 pp. Mother Tongue: The Surprising History of Women’s Words reminds us that patriarchy is not only terrifyingly huge but nightmarishly granular. This spirited, scholarly book marshals a languageful of evidence to prove that our external bodies, actions, and rights are not all that have been colonized by men—so have our words. Jenni Nuttall’s book belongs in the tradition of feminist takes on the English language including Monique Wittig and Sandy Zerg’s

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‘Ordinary Notes’ By Christina Sharpe

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2023, 392 pp. In July 2016, I knelt on the floor amid piles of dirty laundry in my apartment in Brooklyn, sorting clothes by what goes in the dryer and what doesn’t. Nobody was around me and no one needed me, so I could feel what I felt and think my own thoughts. The murders by police of two men in two days in two cities had been all over

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‘Free Them All: A Feminist Call to Abolish the Prison System’ By Gwenola Ricordeau

VERSO, AUGUST 2023 192 PP Harsh prison sentences are often depicted as feminist triumphs. Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing was covered as a vindication of the survivors of his crimes, some of whom advocated the “maximum sentence” in interviews; an attorney statement celebrated Weinstein’s having to “live out the remainder of his miserable life behind bars.” After Bill Cosby’s sentencing, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an anti-sexual assault group, issued a statement of gratitude that

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‘The Vaster Wilds’ By Lauren Groff

Riverhead, September 2023, 272 pp. Lauren Groff’s new novel, The Vaster Wilds, is a survival story: in the early seventeenth century, a girl flees the starving, disease-ridden settlement at Jamestown, Virginia and makes her way alone through the wilderness. The novel is also a revision of the settlement narratives of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the myth of Manifest Destiny in which white settlers have God (and capitalism) on their side. In Groff’s version, as

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‘Girl, Interrupted (30th Anniversary Edition)’ By Susanna Kaysen

Vintage, May 2023, 192 pp. I first read Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted in high school, in 2010 or so. I found a copy for 25 cents at a used bookstore, read it, then loaned it to all of my friends. We had all heard of it, but in 2010, Girl, Interrupted was not the popular phenomenon it had been when it was published in 1993 or when the movie adaptation with Winona Ryder and

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