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Book review: The Science of Herself

The Science of Herself

by Karen Joy Fowler
ISBN: 978-1-60486-825-8
PP: 128
Publisher: PM Press, 2013
£10.99

Fowler’s multiple short pieces make for a great introduction to her work, voice, and style. The opening and title piece, “The Science of Herself,” connects Jane Austen with a struggling, poor, and female fossil hunter in early 1900s England. Patriarchy, poverty, and perserverance. It’s an engrossing story with lean, efficient writing which fleshes out relationships with minimal words.

Perhaps all MFA writing programs should start out requiring their students to read The Motherhood Statement. It’s not a full on barricade burning, but it’s definitely a 50 gallon drum or two of genre-connected protest. Smart. Sharp. Attend to this if you want to write good sci-fi.

“The Pelican Bar” is a creepy, disturbing embodiment of what happens if middle class folks have their difficult children renditioned. As Fowler says later, her story was based on organisations, and that means parents, too, that do this stuff to their kids. While Fowler fortunately spares us splatter punk gore and cyberpunkish indulgence in suffering up details, you won’t leave this feeling terribly chipper. I felt rather shitty, actually.

The interview with Bisson is punchy and fun, close to the best part of the book, but not quite there.

And if you were ever forced as a child to do an activity you didn’t want to do, then the closing story is for you. It’s more than it appears to be. Sure, yes, there’s baseball and a boy in there, but you’ll get so much more than that. Like Fowler’s opening piece, she builds up feelings of relation, connections between characters, and it’s not terribly clear how she does it. What you do find, in actual words, is minimal — hence impressive.

Rich meal with distinct tastes that can be sampled at one sitting. However, ingesting Fowler’s text over several days would, honestly, probably be far more rewarding and allow you to fully savor her writing’s richness.

Luther Blissett