about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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The Missing Girl
A Review of The Missing Girl
by Jacqueline Doyle

Spencer Dew

In one story here a woman is assaulted, gang-raped. She finds herself staggering naked with slurs scrawled across her flesh in magic marker, designated as a target, an object. “Dried vomit is crusted on your cheek and right shoulder, where someone has written HA HA... A large arrow points downward, past your navel....” The words here, rubbed across the flesh and left as indelible stains, insist upon dehumanization, are evidence of both the event and the sentiment behind it, a whole worldview weaponized against a character whose portrayal, in the second person, serves as not only warped window, by mirror, even, amplifying the story’s visceral force. The event, with its horror, has been, at least for the moment, forgotten. The woman is coming out of a drugged daze, is in shock. But the simplest level of storytelling, “the word SLUT scrawled in black magic marker,” serves to jolt her into a deeper horror. Story, here—the word imprinted on skin—signifies the deeply felt intent and the unchecked freedom of the abusers. These few unwashable words mark a line, a rupture, from being a person to being a victim—and, for the writers, from contemplation to full complicity in the evil of the act. Doyle, in this disturbing collection of stories of violence, of sex crimes, uses this image—the woman waking up from her violation to read a story about it on her own flesh—to remind her readers just how narratives work.

There is a power in contingency: the mystery of the speaker’s identity and reliability, in the razor-like divide between that which is said and the darkness of what is unwritten, which our struggling minds must necessarily imagine, reading as implied, rendering doubly horrific as that the details for which we provide from our own fears and for which the narrator, however callous about or even proud of his vicious acts, remains unwilling to elaborate. A story, according to one famous metaphor, should feel like that tiny crest of the iceberg, the bulk remaining below the waterline. Doyle is interested in the slosh, the suck, there where the frigid depths lap and pull at the slick steep incline. In Doyle’s stories, the readers scramble for a grip only to realize they are in the process of drowning, that they cannot possibly survive.

Victims also tell stories in these pages, though that category, too, can get blurry. The man detailing the kidnapping and murder: is he just killing time, spinning out a fantasy because he’s bored on a long flight? The woman who reports the crime, is her account still a lie if, as she admits in the tale she narrates, “things have happened to me, on nights like that, with boys like that”? The disorientation of what counts as true is part of the terror here: real stakes reduced, in rhetoric, to a game, just as certain circumstances render menacing otherwise banal or even pleasing statements. To be told you are cute, to be told you need to lighten up: Doyle shows us just how threatening such comments can be—how they, as foretastes of violence, carry with them something of violence themselves, making a woman flinch or drink more quickly or both, simultaneously, forgetting what is almost inevitably to come, the way viewers might brace for a jump-scare in a horror flick, only here the movie is one spun out in the mind of the protagonist as a kind of psychic insulation. A woman watches her own situation as if from outside, in shock before any hands actually touch her, slipping away into some distanced perspective as a means of protection. It is in this, the narrators who steady themselves by rushing into the black out, who seem even to accept their fate as the way of the dark world, that Doyle inflicts upon her readers a sense of helpless voyeurism simultaneous with identification: “What’s your name again, he asks, but he’s joking with the bartender and handing over some bills and doesn’t wait for an answer. I like it doggie style, he says when he turns back to you, so close you can feel his cold saliva and hot breath on your ear....” Something horrible is about to happen, has happened before, and will happen again. Predators are all around. Doyle reminds of this, and she takes a page from their playbook in order to do it. Her stories lean close, their breath strong with the scent of threat, and stage-whisper, “Want to play a game?”

Official Jacqueline Doyle Web Site
Official Black Lawrence Press Web Site

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