Body Art – story review

The second story in A.S. Byatt’s collection Little Black Book of Stories is Body Art. Body Art follows the evolution of  a relationship between an emotionally distant doctor and a young woman literally and figuratively scarred by a previous abortion. She is a young artist who the doctor discovers sleeping in a homemade cave in a storage room. He gives her a place to stay, for reasons unexplained she crawls into bed with him every night for the week that she stays with him, and winds up pregnant. He wants the kid, she doesn’t, he convinces her (forces her?) to keep it. She has the kid, ends up loving it for reasons she can not articulate and we are left with an image of them as a possible inexplicable family.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this story. Part of me wants to find some sort of religious correlation. Daisy, while not virginal, certainly seems to play the role of wounded innocent carrying a child she didn’t ask for. Meanwhile, the doctor, is named Damian and is less than likable throughout much of the story. He assumes a clearly domineering role towards Daisy, essentially demands she bear the child, and then sees through the birthing process himself. The other central character is a woman named Marth who Damian works with to attempt to catalogue a collection of art and medical curiosities the hospitol’s founder has left behind. Until knocking Daisy up, Damian had wanted to pursue Martha but the unexpected pregnancy forced the three of them into a bizarre “family” dynamic with Damian and Martha assuming the stereotypical parent roles to Daisy – which also touches upon a disturbing incestual dynamic. In the middle of the story, between Damian having knocking Daisy up and them discovering that she was knocked up, there was an art show where Daisy had “borrowed” (or stole, depending on point of view) materials from the medical curiosities to construct a massive collage/statue of Kali.

There’s also  a clear man/woman thing going on. Daisy is continually hurt by men. Her father ditches her. her boyfriend knocks her up and ditches her. The baby, iirc, was a boy when it was aborted and the abortion almost killed her partially because of complications and partially (insinuated) from a possibly inept male physician. Damian, aside from being named after the devil, knocks her up, throws her out of her “cave,” tears down her statue of Kali made from appropriated materials from the hospitol while threatening police action, and forces her to bear the child they conceived.

Meanwhile, Daisy continually communicates along the lines of feelings. If anything she is too connected to the world around her, allowing it to emotionally injure her too readily while continually trying to foster some sort of positive reactions all around her through use of her art. Martha becomes an almost stereotypical mother figure, with all of the positives and none of the negatives.

Through the first two stories there seems to be a thread being formed of women carrying the injuries of their youth throughout their lives – that whatever horrors afflicted them then in some way transforms them into the adults they become, dictating the path of their lives, the choices they make, the methods with which they come to deal with the world. Now this isn’t something that should be revolutionary. It is something that can be equally applied to fairly much everyone that their pasts dictate their futures, no necessarily in an economic sense (though, often, I think it does) but in an intangible “who you are” sense. but maybe something can be said in how all of the women are crippled in some form and that none of them appear to have had childhoods that didn’t involve some sort of trauma that radically affected their lives. Then it should be noted that the most well adjusted woman, so far, has been Martha from Body Art and that she easily assumes a “motherly” role while Daisy and Damian seem entirely unsure and uncomfortable of their roles. Is Byatt saying something about motherhood being a natural mask for women to wear? Or is she saying something more akin to a “healthy” woman somehow requires a motherly aspect not only in their youth but an ability to assume such a role in adulthood?

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