Three-A-Week (2.3): Carmen Maria Machado’s “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law and Order SVU”

Published in The American Reader (Vol. 1 5/6)

(Warning: I’m going to be talking about the story assuming you, my wife or imaginary reader, have read it. Here there be spoilers. Also, these are my rough, rambly thoughts; I make no promises regarding cohesion or concision.)

I’ll come clean: I’ve never actually watched any of the various Law and Orders. But I have watched their ilk: Bones, CSI, some of NYPD Blue. So I understand the field we’re playing in here even if I don’t yet know the game.

“Especially Heinous” is weird in the best, most off-balancing way possible. Some of the episode summaries/write-ups/stories are funny, hilarious in a way I even find appealing with my completely lack of character/show knowledge, and others are hard to read, especially the ones that hit so clearly and concretely why these kinds of shows can be problematic. There were parts to this story that hit me like good satire does–I started laughing and then realized that what I was laughing at was myself, and then my laughter turned to cringing at the memory of the shows I’ve watched that have incorporated these same sorts of really problematic elements: overt, unnecessary, and frequent violence toward women, for example. It’s an experience reading “Especially Heinous,” not always a fun one, but always an important one. (This one, from the episode “Shattered,” really articulates what I’m trying to say here: ““Don’t you understand?!” Abler howls as Benson and Stabler struggle to their feet. “We didn’t do this. This was not us. The women. All of the women.” Henson howls with laughter. “You thought this was all some vast conspiracy, but it’s not. The women—no, you’ve done them on your own. The heartbeat.” Benson pulls her gun from her holster and unloads a clip into both of them. Abler falls over immediately, an expression of surprise on his face. Blood gurgles from Henson’s mouth, drips in a long stream down her chin. “Just like in the movies,” Benson breathes.”)

I’m so totally impressed and intrigued by the threads Carmen pulls throughout the piece. It builds and progresses like a story, and like a story its characters grow and change because of their environments and interactions (or lack thereof). There’s a really wonderful ebb and flow to this piece, a sense that something bigger and grander than any individual episode summary could get at, a sense that this bigger and grander thing is always lurking behind every word and phrase, waiting for the reader to see it, to put the pieces together. There’s an enjoyment here, and one I’ve noticed in all three of the pieces I’ve read this week, in ferreting out exactly how form and content insinuate themselves into one another. There’s a real magic in Carmen’s use of and play with formal and structural conceit in her pieces, and it’s especially on display here.

There’s so much already been said about this story, and I don’t really have anything to add, so I’ll just stop now. I’ve had so much fun getting to experience such a cool and interesting new author; I can’t wait to read more of her work (and reread these three stories!). You can find Carmen on the web at her site and on Twitter.

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One thought on “Three-A-Week (2.3): Carmen Maria Machado’s “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law and Order SVU”

  1. Pingback: Updates: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet & Watchlist | Carmen Maria Machado

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