Rag by Maryse Meijer
reviewed by jim hepplewhite
"I'd had my chance as a man."
I'm not sure Ms. Meijer meant you to read Rag. I think she meant you to survive it.
Rag by Maryse Meijer is a precise, vile piece of work. Rag, a short story collection, reads like horror and suspense. The back cover suggests filing it under fiction, but the way Ms. Meijer got under my skin—and I suspect will get under yours—I don’t believe undifferentiated fiction any more than I believe slice of life. Unless that slice you eat contains a razor blade. Or that your life involves reading the crime section religiously.
Or you're a woman.
It undersells Rag to say it's powered by a thousand mile stare at misogyny. But it must be acknowledged. Once acknowledged, there’s other taboos Rag touches too. Hatred. Incest. Stalking.
"Friday nights used to be Steak Nights. Exactly ten ounces of prime rib for me, eight for Wendy, six for our daughter Alice. Other nights we had fish and green vegetables, tofu and brown rice; but Friday was about flesh and blood.
Then a Friday came and there was only one steak at the table, set at Alice's place. I drank my milk, stared at my empty plate. It was Alice's twelfth birthday. After that, Alice ate meat every day, and Wendy never served me meat again.”
The cumulative effect of those stories is precise and relentless, which I imagine comes from ruthless editing or re-writing. Gun to head, a book hasn't squick-ed me since In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. With Rag, Ms. Meijer joins Ms. Hughes in my estimation of writers who expertly wield menace.
Take the story called "Jury," and all its hazardous waters: A father estranged from his daughter, a rapist/serial killer, "cutters," and Christ only knows what else. In many other writers' hands, it would read to dramatic. It would read amateur hour. Rag is Ms. Meijer's second collection and third book. And "Jury" doesn’t read tropey or dramatic! Ms. Meijer places every metaphorical foot carefully, whilst making it look easy.
To summarize: Rag's disgusting. Rag's great.