Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The pistol-whip redux

Please note the words below are by no means my own. They are a cut-and-paste adaptation of a recent post by another blogger. I thought it would be interesting to switch names and gendered pronouns to see what happens. Yes, interesting, but it’s the first time I’ve ever felt queasy about my own blog. I’ve never deleted a post, but this one I might take it away in a day or two.

 

Copy in italics is the modified original, with ed’s notes in square brackets.

 

Back in the 20th century it was called a cock-up. A husband would wear the pants and rule the roost, and treat his spouse with a lack of respect that sometimes developed into contempt.

 

Taken to extremes, a man’s sadistic delight in the humiliation of his wife could lead to murderous consequences. This is what happened to Tammy Taljaard, her husband and their daughter.

 

[Changed names, pronouns, cut some adjectives]

 

Tammy looked the part. There was little flesh on her, she suffered from a mild form of spinal curvature, she wore spectacles and developed alopecia, and when she laughed nervously her upper incisors protruded.

 

[Changed pronouns, cut some adjectives]

 

Mr Taljaard was the same height as his wife but weighed twice as much. When he raised his voice in order to berate and belittle her, it was always in the same monotone.

 

[Changed pronouns, cut a bit]

 

When she was at home, Tammy spent most of her time in the garage sitting in her car looking through the windscreen at the paint that was flaking off the wall. This was preferable to the constant goading she was subjected to the moment she stepped inside the house.

 

[Cut two words]

 

This went on for many years until one day it occurred to her that hell couldn’t possibly be worse than purgatory, and she might as well get on over there. That night, when her husband and daughter began rolling on the floor and screaming in agony after eating the meal she had poisoned, she called an ambulance.

 

[Didn’t change anything other than pronouns, but had a moment’s silence for Ellen Pakkies]

 

When her tormentors had been carted away she returned to her refuge, fitted a hosepipe to the exhaust, and then got behind the wheel for the last time. It was in the 1980s that this took place.

 

 

Nowadays it’s not quite the same. Instead of being slapped around, women get pistol-whipped.

 

[Modified two verbs]

 

There’s a difference … It has something to do with social changes that have taken place over the past 30 years.

 

[No changes. Penciled something about social changes in the margin, but, oh, blast pencil, so vague. Feint.]

 

 

[Cut a paragraph. Took two Panados.]

 

Take what happened to Edie Delikat. Born and raised in a small town, she joined the local municipality and rose to the position of Supervisor in the Water and Sanitation Department … She enjoyed getting drunk in the local bars and was happy to participate in a good brawl. Then, in her late twenties, she met Mike.

 

Yes, Mike was handsome, but he was also a hard case. Edie only discovered just how hard a case he was once they were married. Her pregnancy was a difficult one but still she was required to so most of the household chores. [Looking for that note I penciled in the margin earlier, but can’t seem to find it now.]

 

Edie wasn’t particularly suited to domestic service and she often tried to shirk her duties by coming home late after getting drunk with her buddies down at the pub. However, Mike soon put a stop to this.

“If that’s how you want to behave,’ he told her, “Then you can sleep on the couch and keep that thing well away from me.”

 

In order to get that thing anywhere near her, Edie found it necessary to jump through a whole lot of hoops. Like coming home straight after work, regularly walking the dog, dandling the child on her knee, and putting the rubbish out on a Monday morning.

 

[Note: Must adapt this into a screenplay. So touching and unbelievable, tragic, really, that a person should be expected to help take care of a child they helped to create. Dandling the child on her knee. The irony. The pathos!]

 

“We don’t see much of Edie these days,” one of her pals commented. “I think that poor woman is so pistol-whipped by she doesn’t know the difference between a pistol and …”

[Pronouns. Deleted some references to genitalia.]

 

… Mike used sex as a weapon to bludgeon Edie into fulfilling her obligations as wife and mother…

 

[Cut some stuff, building the suspense, tried to find a nice cursive font, but made do with the colour pink instead]

 

He made no bones about it. Behave yourself, or else. Mr Taljaard had probably been playing the same game with Tammy, but the sexual dimension at that time wasn’t out in the open like it is today. That’s the difference between cock-ups and pistol-whipping.

 

[Cut some more stuff.]

 

It struck her one day at work that Mike no longer had any hold over her. But sometimes she wonders if it wouldn’t be better for all of them if she’d poisoned him and the kid and then went to gas herself in her car.

[Probably a realistic place to end.]

 

I suspect the writer of the original post won’t praise me for this, but that doesn’t matter. I suspect he doesn’t like … certain people. Imagine if you know somebody strongly dislikes, say, surrealism, and you present them with a Dalí print. They’ll tell you they don’t like it one bit. You’ll say it doesn’t matter, because we all know you hate this kind of thing anyway. Same-same. No different.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.ianmartintheauthor.com" rel="nofollow">Ian Martin</a>
    Ian Martin
    September 13th, 2013 @22:00 #
     
    Top

    Hello Maya. It's good to know you are real flesh and blood. I was beginning to think that BooksLive had become BooksDead. I would like to ask you how you would have reacted if the story had been told as you have suggested? Would you have been outraged? If not, why not?

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://mayafowler.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Maya</a>
    Maya
    September 14th, 2013 @09:41 #
     
    Top

    Hi Ian. No, most likely I wouldn't have been outraged. Just dismayed at another reminder of the social reality of today.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://www.ianmartintheauthor.com" rel="nofollow">Ian Martin</a>
    Ian Martin
    September 14th, 2013 @16:34 #
     
    Top

    Maya, I think that what you and other readers are objecting to is that I have written this piece of fiction in such a way that Tommy and Eddie could be regarded as victims. Which somehow exonerates all men who abuse women. But if you read the piece more closely it isn’t that cut and dried. For example, the narrator says Eddie has to jump through a whole lot of hoops. Poor Eddie? Look at the hoops, as you have done, and tear your hair out. Get home to wife and child instead of going boozing? What kind of man prefers the pub to going home? Just get down to THE nearest bar around 7pm in the week and check out the losers trying to reconstruct themselves in the company of other losers. That kind of man. Play with your child? You would have to be an exceptionally rubbishy kind of rubbish if you have to be coerced into bonding with your own kid. And then there’s putting out the trash on a Monday morning. If the reader can’t spot the absurdity and the irony of this clue, then they really aren’t looking.
    So what I’m trying to do in this piece is to examine an aspect of domestic conflict `without having to nail my colours to an explicitly PC mast. Or any mast. Like you say, it’s the social reality of today, and it’s rather sordid. I’d be interested to know if you feel any different about the story after reading this.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://mayafowler.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Maya</a>
    Maya
    September 14th, 2013 @22:55 #
     
    Top

    Hi Ian. OK, when you explain it that way it makes sense to me. It's just that I didn't get that from the text itself – those nuances. It's probably because the narrator has the specific tone he has. The tone seems to sympathise with Eddie, and with Mr Taljaard. This method can be effective when the reader is made to sense irony, but I didn't detect irony. It could be that if you rewrote it in the first person, or from another perspective: the barman, a nosy neighbour, that that would make a difference. Another point: It's much more effective to put potentially inflammatory statements in the mouths of characters, in dialogue – definitely direct speech. When the third-person narrator, instead, makes this kind of statement (like the opening sentence, for instance) then the reader gets the very uneasy feeling that we're hearing the writer, not the narrator, speaking. That, I've just realised, is probably the crux of the matter here.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 14th, 2013 @23:57 #
     
    Top

    I made almost exactly the same remark under Ian's original post, Maya. It's not about being PC, Ian, it's about getting out of the way of your characters/story, detaching yourself, laying it all out whichever way you wish and then letting your readers decide for themselves.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://www.ianmartintheauthor.com" rel="nofollow">Ian Martin</a>
    Ian Martin
    September 15th, 2013 @17:45 #
     
    Top

    Yes, but maybe I am deliberately setting a trap for the readers. I am being provocative because I know they are conditioned to jump to a whole range of standard conclusions. I push some buttons and they go on the offensive having overlooked the clues that are plainly visible. You and Richard are telling me that it is my fault that you mistook me for a misogynist. Maybe you are right, and I’m not much of a writer, but there is also the possibility that your judgement has been affected by conceptions you haven’t bothered to re-evaluate in years. To tell the truth, I do tend to sympathise with Tommy. On the other hand, Eddie is a contemptible worm. None of the characters are likeable. It’s not a nice story, but nowhere do I encourage anyone to behave badly. And this brings me to the second dimension to this discussion. Some readers took exception to what I had written and complained to the editor. He censored my work and threatened to expel me, without telling me what I was accused of. I think this was an error of judgement on his part.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 15th, 2013 @18:17 #
     
    Top

    Ideally, you, as the author or artist, need to think these things through beforehand. Here's an example: I was once sitting at a sidewalk cafe in France and a couple at one of the tables got into a violent argument. The woman eventually threw her wine in her partner's face and stormed off. The guy shouted at her across the tables, and she turned back cursing him and accusing him of all sorts of infidelities. All the other guests were aghast, staring open-mouthed, as this relationship blew up right in front of them. The guy was just about to get violent and people were standing up to stop him, when the couple suddenly embraced and turned to the stunned audience, informing them that they were street artists acting out a piece in public. Everyone applauded with great relief and gave them money when they went round with their hat. The whole thing had been planned and we had all fallen for it.

    Do you understand what I'm getting at, Ian? You can't go out in the street and kick some random guy in the nuts, and then say it's part of theatre project called The Sweet Nutcracker.

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://www.ianmartintheauthor.com" rel="nofollow">Ian Martin</a>
    Ian Martin
    September 15th, 2013 @20:32 #
     
    Top

    Amusing, Richard. How about this, which is taken from my magnum opus, a book of drivel?

    Henry was not impressed. "Sounds as if you were a bullshitter. Plenty of those around. On a far more creative level is the teller of tall stories. You tell a story that is fantastic or exaggerated but almost plausible. The skill is in placing it just beyond the bounds of logic, so that an intelligent listener is able to pick up the clue that makes the story nonsense or an impossibility. The drawback comes when you have an audience too stupid to get it. You find yourself faced with an irritating dilemma - do you allow them to swallow the crap you've been dishing up, and thereby turn yourself into a cheap liar, or do you labour on, heaping one absurdity upon another until they finally see what you're up to, and in the process turn subtlety and wit into coarse buffoonery?"

    Bottom
  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    September 15th, 2013 @23:19 #
     
    Top

    I understand what you're getting at, Ian, but one question will remain forever unanswered: is the audience too stupid or is the tall story too devoid of logic?

    Bottom

Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat