The Suit: For 2016, Hearts is my suit for “stories from Indiana-related literary magazines and literary journals”
The Selection: “Letter to the Man in Carnivorous Plants” from Butler University’s “Booth” journal’s archive. Lots of short works available there if you’d like to explore.
The Author: Lauren Boulton, a “recent graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University.” She has a tumbler account at http://laboulton.tumblr.com/ if you’d like to learn more about her.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
(below: everybody’s all-star of carnivorous plants – a Venus Fly-Trap)
Letter to the Man in Carnivorous Plants
Here I go, picking stories/works based solely on their titles. This one sounded irresistible and, having read the classic H.G. Wells short story, “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” years ago, I wondered if I would find a modern retelling of the (not-so-)classic “Man vs. hungry Plant” literary theme. This piece wasn’t anything along those lines at all. It wasn’t even fiction, as it turns out. Rather, it’s a kind of “open letter” to a sleazeball who has left a lewd photograph of himself tucked into a library book, presumably so he can enjoy a kind of perverse thrill whenever he wishes to remember his act and imagine what unsuspecting young co-ed found his “contribution” to the library.
“String-haired man, flannel-coated man. What was it about Carnivorous Plants that made you so frantically move your hand above your open-flyed jean-crotch so quickly that it blurred in the photograph? Before I discovered your photo, I’d leafed through the first pages ofCarnivorous Plants, found images of less threatening things—illustrations of people swallowed by pitcher plants, the staggered teeth of a Venus flytrap closing over a human body. The text explained that these things were myths. They were not real, just the product of legend.”
The author of the letter goes on to speculate about the “Man in Carnivorous Plants” and relates how his act is less uncommon than many think, or would like to think. I was reminded myself of how – in the days before social media’s omnipresence – blissfully unaware I was of how badly some men – or people – behaved. It’s discouraging, frankly, but sadly also not surprising.
‘This kind of threat seems to follow me, but I am starting to feel that it is an across-the-board phenomenon, that there are people like you in every town and city and rural unincorporated area. In the Ohio town that (you and?) I call home, earlier this year, a man exposed his penis in a Subway restaurant, demanding a blowjob and then a sandwich. It could have been you. It probably wasn’t. Some people don’t believe people like you exist. They need personal stuff as evidence, and sometimes they still don’t want to think you are real. How many times, walking home from class, have I been threatened and evaluated and made a sexual object in broad daylight? How many times has a man yelled something rapey and violent from the safety of his pickup truck?’
Near the end of the “letter” she makes us realize yet another level to the magnitude of his act:
“I may never know, Carnivorous Plants man, exactly what secrets were held for me in Carnivorous Plants. Like so many men before you, you set out to make a place unsafe for me and my kind. Just—damn you for making it a book. I thought I could be safe, inside a book, and I was wrong.“
A powerful, if short, piece of writing. One that really makes the reader, especially a male reader, think. Writing that does that always gets high marks from me.
Read “Letter to the man in Carnivorous Plants” online at http://booth.butler.edu/2015/11/06/letter-to-the-man-in-carnivorous-plants/
Personal note: Were you aware that some carnivorous plants are native to Indiana, or did you think – like I did once – that they were only found in exotic tropical or jungle locales? I learned otherwise during an Ecology class at Wabash College. One of the field trips we went on with our excellent professor, Dr. David Krohne, was to an acidic peat bog an hour or so north of our campus. If memory serves, it was home to pitcher plants (pictured below). What I most remember about the trip, though, was how that bog was such an eerie place, and what an odd feeling it left me with. I remember we had to kind of “check in” with the owner of the property, a strange and seemingly mentally disturbed man who didn’t appear to be happy about our presence, either.
(below: the beautiful campus of Butler University in Indianapolis. That’s the Holcomb Observatory in top center, which used to host chess tournaments in which I often participated back in the mid-late ’80s)