Category Archives: Reviews

Longing for A Deaf Community

Longing For A Deaf Community

A review of Raymond Luczak’s “Mafia Butterfly” in Nothing Without Us (Renaissance Press, 2019)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Raymond Luczak’s “Mafia Butterfly” is pure Deaf Pride. Luczak explores the powerful intersection of femininity and Deafness with a character who turns off her hearing aids so she doesn’t hear catcalls, who challenges men who try to reduce her to her body, and who recognizes that the second she speaks and they recognize she is Deaf and uses sign language, they realize that “suddenly they’re not in power”. 

Luczak points out the double violence that Deaf women experience, both because of their Deaf identity and because of their gender identity, having his character comment on the ableist, sexist comments that “Deaf people are supposed to be great in bed because they don’t know how to say no” and that because of her Deaf identity, she is perceived to be “all about the body”. He explores the frustration at a family that refuses to learn to communicate with her, pointing out that she decided to take speech therapy for her family’s benefit but they won’t take time to learn ASL. 

Luczak gives the reader insight into the joy that people in the Deaf community experience when they are able to connect and use ASL with his character saying “when I tasted the forbidden fruit of Sign, I suddenly realized that I had been sleeping all my life in a cocoon”. ASL is not just a way of communicating – it is transformative, bringing his character life. She experiences pride in her identity, describing herself as “I wasn’t just deaf; I was Deaf. Capital-D!”. Deaf identity was powerful for her, allowing her to find a history, a culture, and a language. 

Yet Luczak also explores violence between members of the Deaf community and bullying by people who assume positions of power. Luczak’s narrator experiences rejection from the community she sought and the identity she needed. 

Luczak gives the reader insights into ASL when he translates signed dialogue into English, preserving the cadence and ‘voice’ of ASL in his writing with statements like “Himself same-same m-a-f-i-a decide maybe you nothing. If happens, worry not. Himself run Deaf community not.” Luczak uses these lines to speak to an audience that knows ASL, while also bringing DeafWorld closer to the hearing world and letting hearing readers experience the need to translate for once. Simple acts like this bring notice to the audism (hearing-centric nature) of our world and the expectation of Deaf authors to translate from ASL for a presumed English reader. 

“Mafia Butterfly” is a tale about the need for a Deaf community. It’s a story about resistance not only to the violence of a sexist, audist world, but also violence within the Deaf community toward members who don’t have the same access to Deaf resources. His narrator asks “why are many Deaf people so afraid about being judged when they choose to befriend a new Deaf person? Can’t they see that it isn’t healthy to dismiss people they barely know? We need more Deaf friends” 

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, go to https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

To find out more about Raymond Luczak at https://www.raymondluczak.com

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Cry Coyote

Cry Coyote

A review of Jennifer Lee Rossman’s “Names” in Nothing Without Us (Renaissance Press, 2019).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jennifer Lee Rossman’s “Names” is a tale of alterity, a tale of the anger a small community has for people they consider “peculiar”. Like many outsiders, Rossman’s narrator, Beck, is able to notice things that others don’t, able to pick up on things that her community is invested in ignoring. 

Rossman’s use of a character who misreads “normative” social cues allows for a complex social interaction with other characters and propels us into a situation where conversations can be precarious. Rossman is able to draw us into Beck’s mind in a way that allows readers to feel the anxiety and danger of communication, sharing a vulnerability that adds power and dimension to this story and invites readers to think more about dialogue and how dialogue often centres “normative” communication styles.

While centring a character who has non-normative social interactions, Rossman weaves a tale about the magic of speech, thought, and names, exploring a shape-shifter who can be drawn in by thinking or speaking about them. Communication suffuses “Names”, inviting readers to speculate about the way that language and social interactions shape our world. 

Rossman explores the complex and often dangerous interactions that non-neurotypical people have with the police, and couples this with the threat of police racism. Beck tells the police that they won’t be able to solve a crime involving the death of a Navajo woman because “all your deputies are white”. Beck, who is a person of colour in addition to being non-neurotypical, is aware of the way that police will often not be able to navigate knowledge systems and ways of interacting with the world that are not their own. Beck recognizes the uniqueness of her perspective and that this gives her insights that police may not have.  

Rossman tells a tale of a murder case that can’t be solved with neurotypical, white ways of thinking, one that requires different knowledges and experiences that most of Beck’s small town are not capable of working with. This is a tale of a girl who has been told all of her life that she is peculiar and shouldn’t be herself facing a monster who is capable of taking the form of anyone else, shifting into other people. It is a tale of someone who is incapable of being someone else learning that her identity is powerful. As Beck states “All my life, people have tried to make me say names, make me look them in the eye and touch them without flinching. They shame me into not being me. And all my life, I’ve tried not to be. Tried not to be me. But this is me. I’m peculiar and I can’t be any other way if I tried, and I don’t want to try.”

Rossman’s story, “Names” is part of the anthology Nothing Without Us, a collection of fiction by disabled authors edited by Cait Gordon and Talia Johnson and published by Renaissance Press. Nothing Without Us seeks to give voice to the narratives that disabled people want to read and to ensure that our stories are told to us by us. These are tales that challenge the tired tropes of disability and the problematic reduction of disability in order to explore our complexity as disabled people. Nothing Without Us offers a space where we can hear disabled stories that don’t have to explain themselves to an assumed abled audience, but rather recognizes that we need stories for ourselves too, stories that many of us have searched for.

to discover more about Jennifer Lee Rossman, go to http://jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com

To find out more about Nothing Without Us, go to https://nothingwithoutusanthology.wordpress.com or Renaissance’s website at https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sa=false&sbp=false&q=false

Storied Recovery

Storied Recovery

A review of Monique Bedard (Aura)’s “Constellations of Stars” in (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health Edited by Kelly Jensen (Algonquin, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Located in a collection of stories about mental health called (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, Monique Bedard (Aura)’s poem “Constellations of Stars” reveals the way that mental health, identity, and landscape can interact with each other and speak to each other. Society pretends that mental health happens in isolation, but Bedard, a Haudenosaunee person illustrates the deep connection between colonial violence and what is coded as “mental health” issues.

Bedard uses poetry and word play to explore the relationship between body, land, identity, and the notion of storied existence. She begins by revealing to her reader that her body is a map of scars that tells a story. Her body is implicated throughout the poem, woven through her words and experiences. This is an emBODied work.

“Constellations of Stars” weaves together Bedard’s own narrative and the narrative of indigenous people in general, illustrating that there are shared experiences and that she feels the pain of colonial violence both from the people that came before her and in the violence, erasure, and loss of land that she has experienced. Bedard’s voice is a multiplicity in one, a shared truth. She explores the theft of indigenous lands, the pain of separation in residential schools, the theft of indigenous children by people who tried to erase their culture, missing and murdered aboriginal women, the erasure of languages, culture, and history. Her story is her own… but it is also larger than a single story.

Bedard explores the idea of “witness” – the power of the act of speaking about things that are being erased, giving voice to situations that were silenced, and enacting truths to counter colonial lies.

To discover more about Monique Bedard (Aura), visit her website at https://www.moniqueaura.com

To find out more about (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, visit https://www.workman.com/products/dont-call-me-crazy

Amulets

Amulets

A review of Heidi Heilig’s “The Long Road” in Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Heidi Heilig’s “The Long Road” begins like many trope-filled stories about disability does – with a self-loathing disabled character seeking a cure. The trope of “the cure” and especially “the magic cure” is built into a large number of fantasy stories, creating a quest for characters around the discovery of a cure, or having characters use magic to transform their bodies into normate bodies.

The difference with Heilig’s narrative, is that although her disabled narrator begins a long quest with her family wearing protective amulets to ward off evil (since her disability is seen as a marker of evil) toward Persia where her family believes there will be a cure… Heilig switches the narrative, breaking from the typical fantasy “magical cure” trope and instead allowing her character to gradually realize that the notion of “the cure” is a problematic one that causes her to view her body as a problem to be “fixed” and instead starts to question the idea of normalcy, realizing that bodies are far more complex than her family had led her to believe. It is only through finding a disabled community and companionship with another disabled person that Heilig’s protagonist is able to begin to re-assess everything she has taken for granted as “truth” for so long.

Heilig reminds her readers that we frequently find knowledge and new ideas within our own disabled community and that we construct our own community as we find other people like ourselves who don’t make us feel like outsiders or exiles. Heilig makes the exile literal by having her characters wander the desert in search of a cure, believing that they can return home “normal”, but although her character searches for normalcy (which is so often the fantasy quest attributed to disabled characters), instead she finds the power of community and challenging her assumptions. Rather than a physical transformation, Heilig presents her readers with a transformation in thought and perspective, an awakening to new possibilities for disabled existence rather than the erasure of disability.

To find out more about Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens, visit https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374306502

To discover more about Heidi Heilig, visit http://www.heidiheilig.com

When A Kiss Isn’t Just A Kiss

A review of Jax Jacki Brown’s “The Politics of Pashing” in QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology edited by Raymond Luczak (Squares and Rebels, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jax Jacki Brown’s autobio story “The Politics of Pashing” explores the visibility of Queerness and Disability and the politics of staring. Jax explores her ability to reverse staring that happens as a Queer wheelchair-user by “pashing” (kissing passionately) in public and playing with her “eye-catching” nature by dying her hair red, wearing a rainbow neckerchief and overlaying her body “with signals of queer sexuality”. Instead of being the object of staring by an ableist, heterosexist society, she takes power away from people who would use their ableist glare by instead reversing the stare and making her body a display of fierce sexuality.

Jax questions whether people are staring at her because of her Queerness or disability, inviting the question of which identity attracts the most stares. She determines that people are staring at her because of her disability and their assumption that disabled people are un-sexual. She tells her readers that she resists this de-sexualization by presenting people with the visibility of her sexuality – by kissing passionately in public.

Often folks with disabilities and Queer folks are taught not to show our sexuality in public. We are taught that holding hands, kissing, and hugging are too icky for the straight, able-bodied cis-gendered public to handle. We are relegated to private spaces. A lot of that “teaching” happens through the stare… and, more specifically, a form of the stare that is openly hostile – the glare. We are Othered from public spaces, and it is a radical act to kiss in public, to demonstrate our love and sexuality in spaces that are hostile to anything that doesn’t conform to a heterosexist, ableist ideal. Jax’s acts of kissing seem like such little things – just a kiss – but when our kisses are treated as threatening, the act of kissing has power. It asks the question of why we are excluded from public spaces, it gives us power over the way we are stared at, and it remakes public space into a space where we can assert our presence and resist erasure. She tells her readers “Until disability and sexual diversity become more visible in the media, my kissing in public will never be a simple act. My pashes will always be political, enacting a complex interplay between my queer and disabled identities, and my pride in these two parts of myself.”

To find out more about QDA, go to http://www.squaresandrebels.com/books/qda.html

To discover more about Jax Jacki Brown, go to http://fukability.blogspot.com

Deaf Planet

Deaf Planet

A review Kelsey M Young’s “Understanding” in Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers (edited by Christopher Jon Heuer, Handtype Press, 2017)

Imagine a planet entirely populated by Deaf people. Imagine all of the possibilities for Deaf inclusion and accessibility with an entirely Deaf planet. Now imagine that there is one city where the oral method is forced on everyone. That is where Kelsey M Young situates the story “Understanding”.

“Understanding” brings attention to issues with schools who forced the oral method of communication on Deaf students. It is a reminder of the power of audism and the history of banning students from using signed languages. Although situated in a science fictional world on a distant planet, Young’s story is about the oppression Deaf students have experienced in school systems that force their audist ideas of language on the population. Young brings up issues like teachers hitting the hands of students for using manual languages, students being forced to sit on their hands to avoid signing, students struggling with comprehension when their teachers only use vocal languages, and the feeling of isolation that comes from being constantly othered.

“Understanding” is situated in a place called Milan, where signed languages are forbidden and the people who use them are called animals and subject to deportation. Even though Eyeth is a colony planet for Deaf people, the community of Milan treats sign language as a crime and forces its Deaf population to use a combination of hearing aids and speech reading. Young hints at the possibility that at some point in the past of this planet, it was ruled by people who used American Sign Language (ASL or Ameslan as it is called in Young’s story) and therefore ASL carries a lot of stigma.

Young’s tale is about a teacher who risks everything to teach a student manual languages since he is struggling with oral language, bringing attention to issues with our own history of forcing Deaf students to learn by oral method and also bringing attention to the teachers who resisted school policy to help their students succeed. This is a powerful story of Deaf Futurity that also recognizes the continuing presence of past (and continuing) oppressions.

To discover more about Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers, go to http://handtype.com/books/tripping/

Through Other Eyes

Through Other Eyes

A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.

Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when she was young, trying not to think about her, but her mother’s dementia and her discovery that Harriet’s eyes are similar to those of her sister have brought up memories of the past, causing her to examine her own feelings of guilt and her memories of the past. Gowdy examines ideas of memory through the lens of dementia (which is socially constructed as a return to an earlier period in one’s memory), and through the notion of out of body experiences.

Gowdy’s notion of seeing out of the eyes of others is reinforced by the fact that Rose and Fiona own a theatre, which reinforces the idea of other visions and perspectives. Gowdy invites the question of voyeurism and whether seeing through another person’s eyes is an invasion of her privacy, particularly since Rose begins to look into Harriet’s life, trying to discover more about this other woman whose eyes she is seeing through during any thunder storm.

Rose’s obsession invites the question of identity, allowing her to know herself by knowing who she is not. Gowdy invites the reader on a quest of self discovery alongside Rose and Fiona, exploring how we define ourselves in relation to other people and in relation to our perception of memory.

To discover more about Barbara Gowdy, visit http://www.barbaragowdy.com

To find out more about Little Sister, visit http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781554688609/little-sister