October 14, 2012
On Barbara Gowdy, cut-out cookies, and other decapitations
Over the weekend, I read Barbara Gowdy’s We So Seldom Look on Love, which readers and writers I admire have been talking about for years. In a collection full of devastating stories, I was most devastated by “Lizards”, in which a woman’s very tall lover decapitates her baby daughter by carrying her on his shoulders and walking too close to a ceiling fan. For some reason, I thought this was an essential plot point to share with my family, including those among us who are 3.
Harriet, whom I’ve accidentally given a fascination for all things macabre, couldn’t get enough of this story. “What happened next?” she asked. “Well,” I said. “The baby died. Her head fell off.” And no, it couldn’t have been put back on. Harriet eventually suggested that they should probably get a cutting board and cut off its arms and legs for good measure. And then we decided it would be an excellent idea to bake some gingerbread men.
Well, not gingerbread, exactly. We made “chewy oatmeal” cut-out cookies, but we call them gingerbread men anyway. Even the women. Their chewiness was part of their appeal, but it also meant that the men were partial to losing limbs and that the day’s focus on decapitation continued. Stuart and I surreptitiously gobbled up the casualties, which meant that by the time the cookies were all decorated and Harriet was permitted to have her “just one”, we were about ready to be sick.
Incidentally, this version of The Gingerbread Man story is our favourite. As with Gowdy, its author doesn’t shy away from darkness, but points out that a cookie getting eaten is far from the worst way a story could end.