review of My Horse and Other Stories
The Review of Contemporary Fiction, March 22, 1994
by Angela Weaser
By way of its grotesquely surreal images and situations, Stacey Levine’s first collection of short tales is an intriguing matter-of-fact study of the impossibility of ‘real’ perception, of a single objective way of viewing the world and the individual’s relation to it. Levine’s self-critiquing narrators take for granted a world in which ‘anything can happen’ —not the conventional ‘anything’ (i.e., winning the lottery, falling in love in a grocery store, being in the ‘right place at the right time’) but the ‘anything’ of the Twilight Zone (without the voice-over narration). In The Twin, a woman spends her days rolling over on her ever-so-small but annoying Siamese twin so that he might be buried in the sand; the forty-year-old man who still lives with his parents in The Son is afraid to tell them of a blackening tooth for fear of being scolded and winds up at the doctor’s feeling embarrassed for the trouble he’s caused everyone; the woman in Cakes lines her rooms with shelves stacked with boxes of cakes that will, finally, make her full, but then can’t eat them because of the disturbance created by the strange, staring cat and dog that show up one day on the corner outside her window. Often startling the reader to attention, these bizarre vignettes end abruptly and leave the reader with a kind of ecstatic nothing.
Although they are not pieces of a broader “story,” there are obvious thematic connections. Most prominent are the themes of power and control — specially the inevitable abuse of power over the weak exercised almost against the will of the protagonists. The reader becomes complicit in these abuses, ultimately sharing the self-righteousness of the protagonists; the horse named in the title must of course be punished for not speaking out (yes, the horse could speak if he chose) against his owner, for not denying his master’s ‘right’ to control him. The horse is weak and the owner has no choice but to detest him; to punish him for his head-bowed-down loyalty. Related to this inevitable abuse of power, and perhaps the reason for it, are the feelings of helplessness and self-loathing felt even by those in power; after all, the master can’t empower the horse; she can␁t make the horse deny her; she can’t, in effect, experience her own power. Levine’s prose is compelling and intriguing and risky. It gets beneath the skin and searches for vulnerable tissue; not a safe place to be, but certainly worth the danger.
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