One of my favourite books is Truismes, the story of a woman who turns into a pig – but, like, a sexy pig, so that’s OK. It’s weird and hilarious and scathingly political but is so hard to recommend to other people because you end up having to use the phrase “a sexy pig” or talk about all her many sexy teats and curly tail (also sexy). For some reason, people tend to come away with all sorts of conclusions about the kinds of things I find sexy instead of just trusting me that erotic pig transformation is real and funny and something they should read and not judge me for enjoying, thank you very much.
Reading Selia reminded me of Truismes and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, which is basically about a woman who stops eating meat and then turns into a tree in ‘Flaming Trees’ (less sexy as a tree, maybe; still a lot sexy en route to tree-ness). Truisme’s pig narrator finds herself getting more fulfilled by her sex life the more swine-like she gets, while Selia finds herself infected by a plant that represents how cut off she is from her sexual desires.
And that, for me, is where the metaphor fails. While Truismes embraced the batshit – “her boyfriend is a wolf! they are both very sexy animals! here is a passage describing all her sexy, sexy pig tits!” – Selia hesitates. She reacts the way most of us would react to finding plants growing beneath our skin, with a little bit of shame and then some shock and horror before looking for help. (I like to think I would probably have also thrown in a visit to the hospital along the way but Selia considers it and rejects it for reasons which make enough sense.) It all feels very reasonable, which means the story stops itself before it becomes fully surreal or absurd or magical, or whatever else it could have been. It feels as though it didn’t quite go far enough.
That said, there’s a lot to like about Selia. Our eponymous narrator is quiet, reserved and crushes on her butch coworker but feels lonely and restrains herself to quiet fantasies. The plant infestation, it seems, comes as a result of her closing herself off to romantic and sexual fulfillment, and is only cured by a one night stand and some self-confidence. It’s the kind of thing where if it were handled clumsily it would come off as silly, the set-up to some kind of sci-fi porno, but it’s not – I really feel for her loneliness, and the fact that “not so deep down Selia believes the possibility of her getting some doesn’t exist” and how she arranges her life to make this prophecy fulfill itself rings uncomfortably true for me.
(I’m reasonably certain that all this talking about sexy pigs was only an asset.)
Selia is a story about sexiness with very little sex – Selia and Evelyn flirt and go to bed before the scene fades out, and the climax of the story is Selia texting her coworker to ask her out for a drink. It doesn’t quite live up to the “waves of lust” we’re told pass through Selia’s body all through Spring, and for someone who supposedly keeps thinking “naughty thoughts” her fantasies are about giving her coworker French fries and ketchup. When she does hook up with someone, she keeps all her clothes on to disguise her plant infestation, so her breasts remain “alone and absent of touch”. I appreciate that Krasner is showing the lack of emotional intimacy and connection with other people as being equally missing in Selia’s life; I just feel that the story as a whole stays oddly chaste for a story about sex, and that Selia’s epiphany – I’m a sexy ass motherfucker – doesn’t feel entirely earned.
As I was reading it I kept thinking about Truismes and what had worked so well for me there that Selia was missing. The answer, I think, was boldness – not necessarily from the protagonist, because Selia’s whole character development is about her pushing herself out of her comfort zone and learning to take chances, but from the author. If you’re going to be weird, be unapologetically weird without hesitation. Instead Selia occupies this awkward halfway point where the story doesn’t quite commit to the inherent absurdity of its premise. Sexy plants! It’s weird, or it should be weird, but it feels like it’s being written with a sort of self-deprecating shrug like ‘haha, I know this sounds a bit silly but hear me out…’
No! Be bold! Embrace the weird idea! Embrace the sexiness!
Fuck more pigs, I guess.