Caine Prize Blog-a-thon: "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata" by Lauri Kubuitsile


As always, a link to the story (this one's worth it, I promise!): In The Spirit of McPhineas Lata

At last, a unique and illuminating story that doesn't drown in the weight of its setting, that never once mentions the materiality of its character lives apart from a throwaway line about how the citizens collect water at a communal tap.

And most importantly? It's really funny. I understand this type of humor might not be to everyone's taste, but I have a healthy love for ribald absurdity (one of my favorite novels of all time is Confederacy of Dunces, after all). But it's reductive to say the story is just about sex; more accurately, it's about a set of people striving to keep a community together, and sex is their herding tool of choice.

This types the story more as a modern inversion of Lysistrata. Lysistrata is an ancient Greek play wherein Lysistrata instructs the women of Sparta (possibly Athens?) to withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to stop fighting an interminable war. This play was, believe it or not, in my junior high school textbook. I distinctly recall my humanities teacher saying "WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH THIS IN SCHOOL. BUT THIS IS WHAT IT'S ABOUT (sex, sex, sex). IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, READ IT ON YOUR OWN TIME. ALSO, IT IS ABOUT SEX. So there you had it, 60+ 14 year olds who read an ancient Greek play, on their own time, without even a vague possibility of extra credit. (I remember our teachers pulled the same trick, to much the same effect, when we studied Canterbury Tales. DO NOT READ "THE VICAR'S TALE.") Teachers, take note.

But I digress.

There are certain stylistic aspects that continue to frustrate me -- excessive use of passive voice, sloppy sentence construction, and actual punctuation mistakes -- but overall I commend the writer on her effort. And would kindly request a line-edit.

Also, I did find it slightly troubling that the humor in the story partially requires infantilizing its cast of characters. First, the woman are so perplexed by their husband's behavior that they automatically revert to a supernatural explanation. They hardly show reason or logic in arriving at this conclusion.

But the men are even MORE infantilized; in fact, they behave not like teenage boys, but boys even younger. They have a healthy curiosity about the female body, but that curiosity is not really sexual. They test their wives' responses the way a child would learn about the world, through positive and negative reinforcement rather than actual comprehension of response. And I find it hard to believe that these men have never encountered NECKING before.

But in the case of the men, it's possible this is only troubling from a Western socialized perspective. We often conflate "maturity" and "adulthood" with active sexuality, and sexuality as an expression of the self. And of course we are in a hypersexualized culture. I remember the first time I encountered the concept of necking and ear nibbling as erotic foreplay: it was in a book by Jerry Spinelli that I probably read in fifth grade. And you know what I thought about it? Just what the protagonist did: disgusting, gross, ear wax and giggles! (ah the truly deleterious effects of YA, turning kids off things before they even know what they are!) Why do we acclimate to such horrible sounding things? Experience.

Therefore, there's no reason for the men to comprehend these activities as turn-ons until they actually experience them. And thereby, I have talked my own way out of one of my quibbles. (If you continue to have quibbles about this, feel free to respond in the comments).

Other Blogathon Posts:

Backslash Scott

Zungu Zungu

Method to the Madness


Sky, Soil & Everything in Between


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