In dark, dense forests and well-kept domestic houses, Roseanna Alice Boswell’s collection Hiding in a Thimble (Haverthorn Press, 2020) weaves the fairytale of adolescent girlhood with a grimness reminiscent of the Brothers’ Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. As she asserts in the book’s opening poem, “Forest: Feat. Thicket:” “If / everything is in its place, a forest should / look almost domestic.” It is in these myths—of Snow White, a recurring anthropomorphized “Bunny,” and personified does—that the speaker identifies facets of herself, and the horrors of a girlhood defined by the male gaze and male desire.
In this collection, the speaker’s rapidly changing body becomes a site of profound alienation and disassociation. “Snip/Slide” recounts the painfully vivid tale of the speaker’s violent alteration of a bathing suit to fit in with other preteen girls: “I / am a watermelon—blocky and green,” she laments, before “I cut the / middle out and it is ragged and rolls down / but I don’t care.” In this poem, exposure stops a childish, innocent girlhood in its tracks; “I / will never slide down another slide as long / as I live,” insists the speaker, defiantly racing towards the womanhood that she sees symbolized in the other girls’ “lemon print bikinis and tanned middles.”
Throughout the book, the speaker grapples with her own burgeoning desire, which both empowers and disenfranchises her. Recounting a first crush in “You Make Me Feel Things I Can’t Tell My Mother,” sexuality straddles childhood, where “who knows what could happen / on Hello Kitty sheets.” However, the same conflict follows the speaker into adulthood. “I make an excellent wife with my recipes / from Aesop,” she brags, recounting how she must contort herself to please her husband and other men: “I almost imagine myself a pomegranate / with all that hidden flesh for plucking.” The possibility is both titillating and heartbreaking, as the speaker conflates desire with being desired, adopting male wants as her own. Even as she reflects that “I’ve developed a lot of empathy for colanders / &/or condoms recently. Really anything / that has to filter potential catastrophe / for a living,” she boasts that “If any girl is home with a broken heart / it’s not me.”
The disconnect between the speaker and her own body is frightening enough, but as the rest of the collection reveals, it is adulthood—and the male attention it brings—which intensifies this disconnect, making it still more harmful. In several poems about “Bunny,” the speaker places herself in the shoes of this small, helpless prey animal, analogizing the creature’s timidness to her own obedience, demureness, and submission to men: “Mable Bushytale stores everything / away for her husband / never takes a stray / acorn for herself,” reads the opening stanza to “Lessons in Deportment,” both lauding this self-sacrificial behavior and mourning its impact on Mable, who “is always looking for ways / to take up less.” Such internalized violence is coupled, more explicitly, by comparisons between predator animals and the rape culture that characterizes so much of female adolescence. In “Bunny Fables,” Boswell adopts the victim-blaming language of media, explaining “she should know better / than to stray / off the path alone.” In the face of a world where “her bones / will be delicious / cautionary tales,” the bunny may find that Mable’s desolate, empty nest is the more appealing option.
A profound sense of irony cuts through Hiding in a Thimble as Boswell recontextualizes the patriarchy’s language in a sharp critique of its impact on young women. In “Funny Girl Talks,” contemporary media unravels the fairy-tale image of the bunny: “hey just look up my Twitter @ / swellbunny you’ll see how fucking funny / I can be.” This poem, and a few others, offer a jarring, vocal anger that contrasts the quiet bitterness of most of the collection’s pieces. Boswell surgically deconstructs the same myths that she’s spent much of the collection exploring, recasting her speaker as “shrew-mouthed and screaming” and insisting that “Girl-hearts always become cannibal.” Here, the violence that the bunny-girl experiences is refocused on those who have hurt her. Ultimately, the speaker attempts to reject the genealogy of ideal femininity that she inherited from her own mother, claiming that “We are not going to grow / old conventionally if I have any say.” Even for a woman scarred by patriarchal violence and self-hatred, healthy versions of domestic bliss are possible, where “My lover’s arms are warmer / than our furnace ever gets.” But doubt lingers, and “everyone becomes somebody’s mother.” Hiding in a Thimble maps the quiet traumas of girlhood onto familiar fairy-tale imagery, stitching a myth that, like most fairy-tales, is less idyllic and more violent than it first appears. Its “cautionary tale” is not the bunny who strays from the path, but rather this account of the dispossession, silencing, and alienation that young women face in their intimate relationships as they become objects to be desired and animals to be hunted down.
Katherine (Katy) DeCoste is a queer, white settler currently living on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the WSÁNEĆ peoples, where they are pursuing their MA in English at the University of Victoria. In 2020, they received their BA Honours in English and History from the University of Alberta. You can find their poetry in Barren Magazine, Grain Magazine, The Antigonish Review, and other outlets. When not writing, reading, or answering emails, Katherine can be found playing Dungeons and Dragons, volunteering with food support initiatives, and forcing their friends to eat their baking.
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