• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Book Review: Schism in a Soul So Tender by Clara Mundy

ByEmma Carrero

Sep 28, 2023

This year’s PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers consists of thirteen winners, deemed to have the best short story debut in a publication, according to expert judges. One such author, Clara Mundy, takes the spotlight with her short story Schism in a Soul So Tender.

Having spent years in Texas and France, Mundy studied creative writing, French, and English. She gained the inspiration for her winning short story from the recent abortion bans in Texas. Mundy herself also dealt with a conservative and religious upbringing, in which the discussion of a woman’s sexuality outside of marriage was taboo. Her interpretation of a world where the act of lust is vilified towards women is downright eerie and reflective of what is happening in modern day.

Mundy’s protagonist, Susan, is isolated from her society due to a creature emerging out of thin air and taking on her identical form. While the reason for its appearance is not directly written, it is hinted that it came after a desire-filled encounter with her close friend Tom. Aside from that, it is repeatedly mentioned that every woman goes through this and Susan’s female relatives have all done it before. They have all killed the creature as a form of ritual to get rid of the ‘evilness.’ It provokes insight into how both the society in the story, and in the real world, treat women when it comes to intercourse. This sort of treatment is so common that it is heavily normalized.

Mundy amplifies the unnecessary attention on a woman’s virginity within her world and vividly executes the horror of it all. Susan’s family are all disgusted by this creature until it is slaughtered, cut, cooked, and eaten. Blending a bit of body horror only emphasizes the deeper meaning behind Mundy’s story. Especially when prior to this sequence, there is a detailed passage describing Susan tearing apart and eating an orange whilst thinking of her maternal kin. During the final dinner, poor Susan is the only one left with conflicting feelings about the whole ritual performance and becomes severely detached from herself and the people around her. As she attempts to seek comfort with her cows who once protected her, they instead reject her with a bite like a reflex.

It is interesting how Mundy fills her story with bits of antithesis that are easy to catch on and only prove her point more. Women’s sexuality has been vilified to the point where even nature turns against them. In Susan’s case, her very way of living was interrupted for months because of a very natural feeling and act. Her family, before treating her as sickly, now come to celebrate her bloody triumph. It is unknown whether she was able to move on, but Mundy satisfyingly leaves her story as her character – with the sense of something missing.

As one of the winners, Mundy receives a cash prize and her short story being publicized by Catapult in an anthology of this year’s Best Debut Short Stories.

peeled blood orange” by chotda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0