The woman running for her life from a man in a park. The girl who passes out at a party after a tainted drink. These are familiar stories we’ve been exposed to time and time again in the media. In fact, they’re so common they border on cliché. We’re under the impression there is nothing left to say, but there’s still, for a lack of words, fresh blood in these stories.
Jacqueline Doyle’s debut chapbook The Missing Girl features a collection of stories about the threats women face. From rape to questionable encounters, Doyle’s genius is that through her flash fiction pieces, she relies on our societal knowledge to fill in the blanks of her finely drawn bits of terror; and through them reminds us that for women nothing and nowhere is safe.
Doyle’s debut chapbook features eight stories of pain and violence, opening with the title story “The Missing Girl,” a stalking story told in second person. The reader takes on the eyes of a man as he hunts a beautiful young girl and coerces her into his car. It ends ominously, “Don’t speed. You’ll want to take this slow.”
Second person is the least common perspective in fiction, yet for this story, it reveals a new experience. This decision lends weight to the tale as the reader is forced into the perspective of the hunter. In this way, the reader becomes the killer in order to both experience these actions and understand them. The reader sees how the predator plans and what about the victim is intriguing. In this way, the story is far more effective than it would be in first or third person because there is no narrative distance between audience and narrator. There is no space to get comfortable in Doyle’s world.
Even when using first or third person, Doyle doesn’t rely only on the obvious female perspective for her pieces. Point of view shifts put us in both the position of the predator and the prey. “In Something Like That,” the reader becomes a girl who has been abused by college boys, boyfriends, and even by family members, the one who is never believed. In “Hula,” the narrator is a drunk/drugged victim as she succumbs to the continued advances of a stranger looking for more than conversation. In “You Never Know,” the focus is a man who lies about who he is with a story of abduction and murder that feels more like a memory than a story. In “My Blue Heaven,” the narrative shifts between all of the players in a tale of an affair. Each point of view paints the picture of a young woman in love with an older married man that ends in bloodshed.
While almost every story implies some kind of violent, visceral atrocity, that’s all they do— imply it. Each story builds the tension and hints at the violence to come or the violence that’s already passed, but at no point are we shown the violence. There’s never a vivid rape, a graphic murder. Perhaps it’s because Doyle knows something that many who write about violence haven’t picked up on yet: it’s not what you see that’s horrifying, it’s what you don’t. Doyle’s stories are all foreplay relying on our desensitized minds to insert the blood and brutality. In this way, each story becomes a “choose your own adventure” for the reader. As a woman, I insert the worst of what I’ve seen on crime shows like CSI, the harshest murders from movies and the news, all tailored to what I perceive as the worst outcome for the character.
Society spends so much of its time glorifying the horrific. News stations have turned into “tragedy porn.” Movies no longer shy away from the grisly, and even books now create overly detailed visions of bloody torment. Jacqueline Doyle deftly navigates around this. But she also makes a bold statement in a climate of women’s empowerment to tell stories where women are unequivocally the victims. There is no happy ending for any of the girls in this book and there is certainly no justice. Why offer such a bleak outlook? Maybe as a reminder that for all of our perceived power and progress women are still susceptible to what hides in the shadows.