I ordered Women up on Blocks by Mary Akers as part of Press 53's “Books for Soldiers” promotion. I found this collection of short stories nestled between historical books and personal accounts of wars. The first thing that grabbed me was Jenn Rhubright's cover photograph of bright red high-heeled shoes toped by shapely legs lying across the trunk of a well-worn car. The blurb promised that “these thirteen stories—edgy and alluring—inexorably peel back the layers of the women they portray.”
The first story in this collection, “Medusa Song”, grabs you somewhere between empathy, understanding, and fascination. This story begins on a typical morning as an over-tired Cynthia scrambles eggs while her toddler demands her attention. But “typical” ends here, as Akers travels deep, deep, and deeper still into the very sinew of this woman, revealing every frazzled, emotional thought:
“Now things seem to get all tangled up, till she can’t separate them, one from another. She feels like that women with snakes for hair, only all her problems are tangles up there too, squirming and writhing around, hissing on top of her head” (2).
Akers’ descriptions of how Cynthia seeks relief from this hissing, squirming tangle of thoughts are very realistic. Her fears are especially tangible. You almost want to say, “No, not that”, as if you were shouting at a movie screen for the character to not go down the basement.
This, of course, is only the beginning of the adventures that Akers takes the reader on in this volume. Aside from the aforementioned Cynthia in “Medusa Song”, “Mooncalf” is about an unnamed narrator who suffers from cerebral palsy, “Pygmalion (recast)” is about Ima, a young woman who wants to donate her body to the “Worlds of the Body” exhibit and, the final story, “Still Life with Shoes” is about Cecie, who deals with the feelings surrounding her alcoholic father. Women up on Blocks will have you walking in each woman’s shoes, not just as a spectator, but as if you were there with them. These, and all of the stories in-between, will have the reader captivated. Akers’ characters are multi-dimensional, multi-layered real women that deal with the problems of a modern age.
The women in these thirteen short stories will resonate with you long after you read this book. You will wonder about them as if they were your neighbors. You will even feel the urge to call them to make sure they are okay. Akers has imparted a fearless, fully-explored series of stories about how women try to break out of their emotional prisons in a way that will even touch readers who have nothing in common with these women. The stories are honest portraits of how women live through the life they are dealt with courage, strength and beauty.