The last story in Rebecca Schiff’s The Bed Moved has a hint of defensiveness about it. It’s called ‘Write What You Know’ and it begins, ‘I only know about parent death and sluttiness.’ Is that really all she knows? Seventeen of the twenty-three stories are written from the point of view of young, American, middle-class, female writer-types. Two are written third-person, one of which is archly called ‘Third Person’ and concerns a protagonist named Rebecca who has a lot of casual sex. Several have a teenage girl as narrator: one can readily imagine each of them growing up to be a young, American, middle-class, female writer-type. Rangy is not quite the word here.
This all suggests that Schiff is lacking in imagination. She isn’t. The best story here is ‘Rate Me’, a five-page dystopian tale where the narrator’s body parts are sent to a company for ‘rating’ and sent back, improved. ‘My vagina couldn’t break five’, she says balefully. ‘When I got my vagina back from them, rated, irradiated, they’d put it in a satin box with a note telling me that I was now eligible to dine with other top-rated members.’ Like Janet Frame at her bizarre best in ‘Solutions’ or ‘The Mythmaker’s Office’, an everyday truth – here, that women are objectified, alienated from their bodies and then convinced to pay for their own mutilation – is refracted into visible form. It’s disturbing, knife-sharp and, most of all, funny.
Also strong is ‘Communication Arts’, told through a series of emails from an English professor to her increasingly unruly students (‘I’m so sorry about your legal troubles. Please look online to find the appropriate forms for withdrawing from my class’) and, eventually, to her perturbed head of department. Essentially an