Apple and Knife
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Apple and Knife

Intan Paramaditha, Stephen J Epstein

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These short fictions set in the Indonesian everyday-in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages-reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes wacky and always engrossing, this is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Mara finds herself brainstorming an ad campaign for Free Maxi Pads, with a little help from the menstruation-eating hag of her childhood. Jamal falls in love with the rich and powerful Bambang, but it is the era of the smiling general and, if he’s not careful, he may find himself recruited to Bambang’s brutal cause. Solihin would give anything to make dangdut singer Salimah his wife - anything at all.

In the globally connected and fast-developing Indonesia of Apple and Knife, taboos, inversions, sex and death all come together in a heady, intoxicating mix full of pointed critiques and bloody mutilations. Women carve a place for themselves in this world, finding ways to subvert norms or enacting brutalities on themselves and each other.

Review

Apple and Knife is an engrossing collection of short stories by Intan Paramaditha, translated into English from Indonesian for the first time by Stephen J. Epstein. I found myself so absorbed in the tales that I repeatedly lost track of time while reading. Fairytales, mythology, bits of horror and fantasy, moralistic vengeance, infidelity, and even witchcraft are all thrown together with a feminist bent to deliver the chapters in this small volume.

There is a strong female voice to the stories, regardless of the protagonist’s gender, and Paramaditha doesn’t shy away from messier topics. In ‘Blood’, Mara, who works at an advertising agency, dwells on how to market sanitary pads while flashing back to childhood memories of her first period, her mother’s death, and being lectured on her responsibilities now that she is more desirable to men. Kuchuk Hanem is in the business of pleasure and her visitors never withdraw unhappy, but she may have undervalued her most loyal follower who leaves her a horrific, bloody gift after his final visit. ‘The Obsessive Twist’ sees a dangdut performer, who was taught at an early age the power in her gaze, take revenge too far, and in Sin the conventional fairytale ‘Cinderella’ gets a reworking and is told from the perspective of a now old and frail stepsister. But things don’t always end well in Paramaditha’s fairytale world.

The stories in this collection do what I feel a good short story should do: they pull you in quickly, engage your curiosity and then Bang! it’s over and the next one begins before you have a chance to realise the page has turned. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories and found myself going back a few days later for a reread, which brought just as much satisfaction the second time around.


Suzanne Steinbruckner works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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