Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience
(Lavender Ink, 2014)
by Laura Madeline Wiseman
By Sara Henning
While it is true that Laura Madeline Wiseman’s stunning exposé of uxoricide and myth, Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (2014), recounts the Bluebeard Myth, the book is no simple retelling of one man’s compulsive brutality upon the second sex. Three sisters are given the chance to show us their lives, and through the process, teach us about love. In narratives that entice me to lose myself, Wiseman explores intimacy and fatality as symbiotic philosophies that divulge the role of the battered wife’s body—its possession, its duplicity, and ultimately, its reclamation.
The collection opens with the first sister’s story, for whom marriage serves as an anchor for revelation. As we come to know this wife—a weeder of gardens, a shelter kitten crusader—through her daily preoccupations, we also come to know a Bluebeard engaging in unexplored domesticity—mowing the lawn, taking weekend naps. His benign persona not only constitutes a necessary foil for the brutality he later commits, but soothes a wife who by the end of the section becomes a willing accomplice in concealing his previous homicidal escapades. This first wife—the kind of woman who justifies, represses, and carries parasols—is an impeccable codependent, and her death, unspoken, vaporizes into the narratological beyond. After her death, or because of her death, Bluebeard develops a hazardous and intoxicating swagger, a trait which makes him an irresistible widow to the next sister willing to flirt with risk.
In the second section, Bluebeard transmogrifies into a “broad-shouldered punk in blue jeans” (“My Late Sister’s Widower: Bullocks to Love”), for now the bucolic married man of the first section has transcended into a totem of internalized badboyishness. This shift into subculture adds welcome seedy sinew as he becomes a live-in boyfriend, albeit an emotionally perilous one. What makes you think I’d let you die?, he asks in “Against My Brother-in-Law, Against Eloping,” to which the sister—half -knowing, half-smitten, concedes, You’re dangerous . . . to those you marry. Bluebeard’s second wife marries him in her sister’s wedding dress, but not without reflecting on how she has joined a lineage of forsaken women. “Maybe we were all meant to be repainted/in retellings, a name recognizable / by the straightness of the spine—The Robber Bridegroom, Blue / Beard, Fowler’s Fowl—the key, / the blood, the locked room, late wives,” she professes in “Blue Fairy Book,” perhaps out of a sense of fatalism, perhaps out of shame. And yet only poems later, we are shocked by the astonishingly direct first line of “Self-Portrait”: “I dreamed I painted him killing me,” and as suddenly, we confirm our suspicion that this wife has willingly made herself victim for a love that has swallowed her; like the sister she follows into death, she has given her body to the man who will pleasure her and end her with equal vigor.
“Is there a love for which one would willingly give her body?” Wiseman’s collection seems to ask us. As the book transitions to a section where the late wives speak, the reader is given a view into the posthumous lives of wives who remain both attentive and renegade as they internalize the husband they share while he transverses into nuptial terrain after nuptial terrain. In “Blue Eyes” the wives admit collectively, “We don’t want to see / what flies in the night sky / and lands in a secluded field,” as if it is the new wife who flies, love-drunk, into the arms of Bluebeard, and whose body lands, heavy and recluse, in the field of her own making and undoing. It is in this field where she will lose her voice for a communal voice, be reduced to the sum of her functional parts: “toes pale as roots,” “hands . . . like lilies.” And yet this section is the most direct treatment in the collection thus far of an implied paradigm of love: the dead wives knew it was only cultivated through being devastated. That love, like their bodies, was admissible fault lines of passion and wifely burden.
This paradigm is carried into the collection’s final section, the dark sister’s story. The only sister to flee Bluebeard, she returns to her old apartment at the largesse of her ex-roommates. In this space, the cycle of dysfunctional love between the dark sister and Bluebeard seems to augment space and time as she knows it: Bluebeard emails daily, her two dead sisters email daily. Despite her remissness, her return into known territory she hopes will free her, she is nonetheless stifled by the trope of the myth, the way many battered women are swallowed back by the man who almost destroys them. In “His Legs: Blue Jeans, Cuffs Rolled,” we listen to the “third I do,” like a hymnal to suspended belief, though we have no choice but to move when the fairy tale tells us to move.
Wiseman won’t let us out of this collection so necessary to our contemporary moment without reminding us what we already know and are not ready to hear: “this story kills and kills” (“Bluebeard’s Old Cottonwood on the Forest Path”). She reminds us, like a death knell and a warning song: “this story ends with you.”
Sarah Henning is the author of the full-length collection of poetry A Sweeter Water (2013), as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2013). Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin, and Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.