Look here: this is Lucy’s life. It’s covered in rust, because Lucy prefers it that way. It’s a flesh ball of dirt, blood and memory that Lucy holds in her own hands. She likes to singe the edges, to get rid of those gender bounds and expectations and keep things ugly to protect herself. But she still feels pain, especially now, as she peels out of girlhood into adulthood. It’s not a pretty sight. Cortese forces us to witness it raw and uncensored. She is not gentle. She won’t spare you. She puts a language on Lucy’s tongue that is violent and sexual that lucy recites with alarming expertise for an ambiguously aged girl. This is the end of a child amplified to a level most writers choose not to reach.
Sharply grounded in memory Cortese immediately shakes us with her use of intense, animalistic prose. She establishes Lucy’s suffering and anger in the first few pages of the book and introduces morsels of her life through titles that are either straightforward and unapologetic, like Lucy Tells The Boy to Suck, or surreal and horrific, such as Uncooked Like a Sheet of Teats. Lucy’s age is enigmatic, but it’s clear that she is childlike. Yet her fierce and inexplicable knowledge of sex, her own body and what it can do, and what it can feel, is haunting. She is no stranger to pain.
Lucy loves the carmine glory of her arm, the blood medals of a champion! She calls her dog Milo to her, bites her till the roots let go His yelps shine like sequins, the way snow is sequins, and her arms. Lucy demands Santa stitch her a skin of bees, that her screams be not sound but solid: a stinger that stings and stings.
Cortese neatly stitches Lucy’s life together with nostalgia and physical disgust. She has the typical preteen innocence and self doubt here and there. She admires her older sister and compares herself to The Girls. She examines her flesh in the mirror. There is a particular reoccurrence of fleshiness and loose skin in Cortese’s poems, perhaps indicating that Lucy is loose and tearing out of girlhood.
A feral burst of dust, she fought and fucked her way into adulthood, settled into her bed of gold and told the circling moons of her youthful storms-their most numinous moments.
Often the idea of Lucy changing sharpens into body horror. Body horror is everywhere, almost on every page but Lucy stays unfazed, if not fascinated. Cortese writes of lidless eyes, and curdling throats. Even when there are wounds inflicted onto her own skin, Lucy keeps the same emotion, because in her invented world, she has the control. She’s the gardener. She waters her body like a gross, growing tumor.
If you peel Lucy’s skin, you won’t find Christmas white, democracy of ice jangling equally over everything: you’ll see her terror, almost sexual, almost the cherry-hot center…
Lucy might best be explained by the worm in her belly. She was born with it, as Cortese explains, and the thing seems to be triggered by memory and visceral pain, perhaps first introduced to such a thing by her mother’s physical experience of birthing Lucy. It’s a bug curdling around anger and fear, and when it uncoils, it makes Lucy feel disgustingly vulnerable, like a “scumgirl monster”. Her response to the sour squirming in the pit of her is, as usual, violent and disturbing as Lucy tries to maintain control the parts of her life she can reach toward.
She cuts a caterpillar. Throws one green half in the grass. Puts the other in her mouth.
There may be a difference between what Lucy is and what Lucy wants to be. Under the anger is a life, bruising itself while it fights madly to be worth something beyond social norms. Lucy’s imagined grip on her own bodily transformation subverts the fitted shell she is doomed to settle into. Lucy keeps her skin loose and dangling while the rest of her world is rusted and filthy. She is written into the shape of a young girl, but instead of growing up gently, she defaces the disguised societal snare traps between youth and adulthood.
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