I’ve written a lot about the excellent Guillotine series of chapbooks in this space, and so it’s probably not surprising that I was impressed with the latest entry in the series, Jenny Zhang‘s Hags. It’s best described as a long essay, blending candid observations from life with references to literature and folklore, and working it way towards a denouement that finds a political expression for all that’s come before.
In practical terms, that means references to high and low culture: the works of Isaac Babel and Gunter Grass are invoked, but so it Home Alone 3. The way that archetypes and narratives converge and don’t converge also comes up; those are juxtaposed with ideas of mythology and demons, and how those concepts might be turned into something everyday, something heroic. (Wendy Davis’s filibuster, and the collective action it inspired, looms large towards the end.)
There’s a long stretch in the middle where Zhang mentions figures from folklore or anecdotal horror, all of them female. (The summary of Kuchisake-onna was particularly unsettling.) These are stories that unsettle for a reason: reading them alone in my apartment at night may have prompted a nervous look (or two) back over my shoulder. And at the heart of Hags is an investigation: what causes these supernatural figures to have such power? And how else can that be applied? And to what ends? There’s a lot to think about here, and even more to discuss.