xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She says nothing at notimetosayit.com.
After reading Normally Special, if I knew xTx’s legal name, I’d file a restraining order. Maybe she’s Aileen Wuornos. Maybe she’s a wiccan living under A.M. Homes’s bed. I don’t know, she freaks me the hell out.
Though sometimes brutal, sometimes devastating, I couldn’t look away. Especially not from the skill. Not from the beauty. Not from the truth. xTx is a voice unlike any other I know.
Understand that this is bone goodness wrapped in massacres of lovely, & if I wasn’t before, I am now an official fan of xTx.
xTx’s stories embody the terrors, wounds and deep emotions that tremor through our bodies as we walk around in our daily lives, pretending everything is alright. Nothing is alright of course, but xTx turning our hidden selves into meaningful stories helps a whole hell of a lot.
“I’m a mess. Dirty, like he said. I’m feeling every bit of being a woman. I resent the weakness of my sex.”
From Normally Special by xTx.
Where would you like to begin? With the good news or bad?
Bad news is more girls have read Twilight than Normally Special.
Good news is if you’re a girl and have read Normally Special, you know weakness isn’t romantic. Men don’t save us. Art is an offensive play. Female empowerment exists. But it’s fragile. I’m tired. Is this the handbook for girls like these, torn knees, slanted eyes, Kool-Aid in dirty jars, and secrets? Maybe this is a precautionary tale. Maybe you’re fucked being a girl.
Where would you like to start? With the writer or the book?
Normally Special, available for $9.99 from Tiny Hardcore Press, is smaller than my hand, which might disappoint if size matters, if you’re accustomed to the weight of a man, I mean a book, upon you. Don’t worry. You’ll feel the weight of this book.
Ninety-four pages. Twenty-three stories. Many of them a page or two long.
Still you could tie this book to your ankle and walk into a river and drown.
Good-bye, Virginia Woolf.
In writing this review, I spent a great deal of time thinking about Normally Special, re-reading the stories, and quizzing the author by email. Around all this, I lost my job, boss laid me off, and so my situation as a single mother with a mortgage, a car payment, and bills-bills-bills became precarious, or in spirit of Normally Special, more precarious. Because ladies life according to Normally Special is this: womanhood is weakness, degradation, terror, exhaustion.
There is a rampage. There is a tornado of anger. Men will come for us, sometimes as children, and they will show us no mercy, not relent. In “There Was No Mother In That House,” pages sixty-four and sixty-five of Normally Special, a girl realizes her act of rebellion, knocking over her brothers’ fort, is as bright and short-lived as a sparkler.
Her brothers finally find her in a tool shed and beat her senseless.
There you go. Snuffed out.
The cover photo for Normally Special provides a brilliant, if not beguiling, hint to what we’re in for. The picture by Robb Todd depicts a street scene, trash bags nearly off camera, a bike, a view into two shop windows and maybe the reflection of Christmas lights. But here’s what’s striking: a baby girl in a yellow dress framed by an enormous door looking off camera in contrast to a man in a red shirt stepping into the street and so closest to camera and therefore the largest image in the picture. The impression is, he’s charging into the frame. Impression is the girl is stunned. At least bewildered. The photo renders her diminutive.
And even if she grew six feet tall and sprouted fangs, the girl remains a timid monster.
You should be glad there isn’t a part of my brain that clicks, breaks, and changes Wolfman-style into something that can break skin razor sharp into every piece of every part of you. Something that needs to feed on the fear screaming in your pupils of your green fucking eyes, bites your sweet throat warmest of veins screaming for my warmest of mouths, stubble a delicious obstacle to the smoothness of my tongue. You will never need a single silver bullet for me. You will not need a stake made of wood. You will not need holy water or a Jesus cross or torches or pitchforks or any other sort of protective weapon made for monsters such as me. I’m the most timid of monsters. They have removed me from my position within their ranks citing words such as fail, coward, reject, weakling, useless, stupid, worthless, dumbass.
Where would you like to start? With a whisper or a scream?
So many of the women in Normally Special never scream, either they can’t or won’t.
In “The Importance of Folding Towels,” a woman crosses her arms over her chest. That’s it; that’s defiance. Yes, her scream. Another woman smashes fireflies in place of screaming. And still another in “She Who Subjected the Sun” sits on a chair trying not to choke to death while a man mouth fucks her with his hand and another woman is murdered beside them.
We never see the murdered woman. The narrator never looks. She imagines the tracks she makes in wake of what’s left of the dead woman behind her on the floor. Later, she stares into the sun without blinking, which will fry your pupils, leave you blind, but then tries to convince us she’s won. I’m not sure this is triumph, except when I ask the writer about female empowerment in the context of her book she provides a list of examples.
The woman in “The Duty Mouths Bring” distracts Juan with a smile and slows his box making.
The mother in “Standoff” is empowered in the end, the author says, because she gives up, which is sad, but then it’s something she has power over. Well. Yes. Each of us has the power to give up.
Another woman in the book fantasizes control over a boy in “Good Boy, Fritos.”
I feel I would have the emotional advantage over Fritos in that he would need me more than I would need him. This would be a first for me and I would feel a sick power in this feeling. I know if I asked Fritos to hurt himself because it would make me smile that he probably would.
Yes, Fritos like the corn chips. The story begins with the narrator eating them. Fritos is young and Hispanic and “almost chubby” and the narrator orders him to jab himself in the stomach with a drink sword, thirty-three times. The end is ambiguous. Either Fritos continues jabbing himself in the stomach or he turns the sword on the woman’s naked tit with it and stabs her.
Female empowerment in Normally Special isn’t Spice Girls, isn’t Angelina Jolie kicking ass in Salt, isn’t women who attend college or own businesses or run for President. Sure, a few times female empowerment appears in a familiar guise, a woman turns a man on sexually or preys on a boy, but usually it’s less familiar. More dire. Like if you live through this, you’re empowered. Or maybe it’s more twisted than that, far more uncomfortable.
For instance, if your father fucked you when you were a child, and now as a woman you’re able to masturbate then come while fantasizing about your father as he was from your childhood days, is that empowerment or symptomatic of trauma, psychosis? Both?
Normally Special asks this question with “I Love My Dad. My Dad Loves Me.” I wanted to know the genesis of the story, but the author refused to go into it. She did say, “Incest is a horrible thing. It’s disgusting. It’s probably one of the hugest betrayals that can be perpetrated on another. It fascinates me. It’s probably ugly to say that but I’m hiding behind my fake name so it makes it easier.”
Where would you like to start? With who the writer is or isn’t?
xTx isn’t a feminist. She isn’t an anti-feminist either.
“I hope I’m not a let down to my sex for saying so.”
She’s a girl of undetermined age and race. Her name is a pseudonym.
Her name started out as a joke.
“xTx is an alphabetical version of a dick-and-balls,” said the author. “It’s a shield.”
The discussion could go two ways from here. One, the author’s name represents a dick-and-balls, which is ironic in light of her subject matter.
Like, being female sucks.
So invent a name that’s not female. That represents the oppressor.
But here’s another way the discussion could go.
“Maybe I ought to have a dick, on accounta how I seem to approach certain sexual things,” said xTx. Meaning masturbation and porn.
When xTx first began publishing online as a blogger, she didn’t want anyone to know who she was, which isn’t uncommon in the blogosphere, especially among women who write about human sexuality or confront taboo topics. This is twofold is you’re married, threefold if you’re a mother. Plenty of my female peers write erotica or sexual memoir using pen names because they don’t want the world-at-large to burn them at the stake or ostracize their children.
Lest they be cast out as the spawn of whores.
I don’t think xTx is married. I don’t think she has children, although two of the stories in Normally Special are narrated by mothers. In both these stories, “An Unsteady Place” and “Standoff,” the mothers come unglued, unravel, give up.
“Mothers are not given permission to be breakable,” xTx told me. “Yet they are probably the most breakable things in the world.”
Yeah, but what about the children? They could end up living an xTx story like the girl in “There Was No Mother In That House,” or another, “The Mill Pond” in which a mother worries more about her daughter’s weight than well-being, which leaves the girl at the mercy of a child molester.
“I can only speak from my experience of being a girl and a woman,” said xTx, “but I think we have a lot of stuff happen to us because of our sex. I just think that’s how it’s always been and how it always will be and I like to ‘look at it’ by writing about it. I wish I could protect all the little girls in the world so they don’t have to write stories like mine.”
Perhaps the characters xTx breathes fire and life into are more witch than princess, more perverse than pristine, heroic in ways we don’t expect or readily celebrate, yet isn’t that what both literature and pop culture need, a hotshot of anti-heroine so we all OD, in order to eradicate sexism and prejudice?
Jerry Stahl once described JT Leroy as “Flannery O’Conner tied to the bed and plied with angel dust.” xTx is a young Joyce Carol Oates on meth careening down the middle of the highway in a red Fiat without the headlights on. Frantically, bravely. Miranda Lambert on the radio. “Your fist is big. But my gun is bigger.” Her light is the moon. Every time a woman writes, she commits a political act.
Sometimes she writes a love letter to her gender.
A part of me inside a part of you . . . a part of you inside a part of me . . . Those times you put down the razor, that was me forcing your hand. Those moments where you told them no, that was me giving you strength. Each time I stepped back from the ledge, that was you pulling me back. Whenever I kept walking instead of falling down, that was you holding me up. We were saving each other then so we could save each other now and so we do. And so we are.
Blake Butler said if he knew xTx’s true identity he’d file a restraining order against her, which is either sexist or isn’t. xTx says the majority of her audience is male. At least men review her book more often, and more men frequent her blog. What the hell does that mean?
The author has no explanation.
More girls have a copy of Twilight than Normally Special.