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Women We Read This Week

Gina Frangello’s “Did My Best Friend Really Know Me?” in DAME

Gina Frangello’s most recent novel, A Life in Men, was (despite its title) more than anything a portrait of an intense, complicated friendship between two young women. A sort of companion piece, this wrenching personal essay reminded me how of its fictional counterpart made my breath catch.

In it, Frangello recalls her 27-year friendship with Jayne, whom she met in high school under circumstances both remembered differently—enough so, she says, for those competing origin stories to be a metaphor for their whole relationship. She tracks highs and lows along paths that started out and stayed divergent, fueling endless comparisons, resentments, and misunderstandings that were ultimately inextricable from love.

In describing the roles both women played in “the sort of relationship that only makes sense from the inside, and even then, not entirely,” Frangello is generous but unsparing. To read this essay is to watch her try to solve a central puzzle of her life, charting change and sorting out culpability. It’s beautiful, incriminating, and (tragically) conclusive. “My life—the less and less it resembles the life she knew me to live—is increasingly a ghost town full of her echoes,” she writes. “I began to understand her from the inside out only after she was gone.”

Eryn

Kathryn Schulz’s “The Really Big One” in The New Yorker

I first came across “The Really Big One” by chance one Thursday evening when my Seattle roots nudged me to read about the question of when a giant earthquake would hit the coastal Northwest. A couple of relatively small earthquakes occurred in my early childhood, and my peers and I remembered them as a singular occurrence in our collective memory: shaking walls, classroom evacuations, broken plates. As an islander, I’d grown up with the knowledge that we had a special vulnerability to weather and the moodiness of fault lines – earthquakes, tsunamis, even snow storms – but Schulz’s piece shook me into fearing a new kind of inevitable beast. We imagine disaster but don’t always place it into the context of the world in which we live, and that’s exactly what Schulz does. She introduces us to a quake without a due date and breaks into it down into a real, deeply-researched piece of evidence we can hold in our hands:

“Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent… Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size… Now slide your left hand under your right one. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck.”

Schulz’s writing steadily builds up to her explanation of the Northwest’s breaking point with an ease that isn’t always possible with complex, scientific topics. It’s startling, shocking, and uncomfortable to read about the 8.0-8.6 quake that might be able to come – and it’s starting conversations, and hopefully actions, in the way that bold, important writing should.

Julia

Roxane Gay’s “On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies” in The New York Times

I watched the video in which a white police officer tailed (hunted down might be more apt) Sandra Bland, forced her to change lanes, pulled her over for not using a turn signal, and then got increasingly angry and violent when she proved to be a strong, intelligent woman who knew her rights and refused to be harassed. Being black combined with being a woman and being strong and intelligent was too much for that officer. It is clear that he wanted to put her in her place, which, in the end, was a grave. Gay writes about what it means to be a black woman today, and she reiterates what our blind “post-race” society refuses to hear – that black bodies are vulnerable simply for being black, that their lives can be taken at any moment for no reason at all, and that, as is true in the case of Sandra Bland, much of white America will say, “well, that is what she deserved for talking back to a police officer.” In closing Gay describes how,

In his impassioned new memoir, “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, ‘In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.’ I would take this bold claim a step further. It is also tradition to try and destroy the black spirit. I don’t want to believe our spirits can be broken. Nonetheless, increasingly, as a black woman in America, I do not feel alive. I feel like I am not yet dead.

If you are a black woman in America, your body is never really your own.

Alice

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