Book Review: The Book of Scab by Danielle Pafunda
Danielle Pafunda is the author of nine books of poetry and prose, including The Dead Girls Speak in Unison (Bloof Books, 2017), Natural History Rape Museum (Bloof Books, 2013), Manhater (Dusie Press, 2012), Iatrogenic: Their Testimonies (Noemi Press, 2010), My Zorba (Bloof Books, 2008), and Pretty Young Thing (Soft Skull Press, 2005). She has taught at the University of Wyoming, University of California San Diego, and University of Maine. She has served on the board of directors for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, holds an MFA from New School University and a PhD from the University of Georgia, and can often be found in the Mojave Desert.
A Review of Danielle Pafunda's The Book of Scab
Danielle Pafunda’s The Book of Scab is a collection of epistolary fiction and memoirs from the perspective of a young girl who experiences revelations about disappointing relationships and, in turn, appears to gain an emotional maturity that comes across as concerning, yet humorous. Pafunda’s letters are testimonies of girlhood, of instinctual desire, of moral conflict that young people face and of absurd situational lessons.
In the first letter to “Mom and Dad,” Pafunda’s young girl protagonist is at a concert and she enters this music setting with naivety as she takes drugs without knowing what kind. She mentions "True Love" as if to expect both a grandiose theme and a desirable person. She depicts the disappointing reality of "True Love" as an impractical ideal and as a boy who tantrums over rejection:
He wants to know where True Love is, he wants me to follow him through the park, to leave some money in the base of a tree True Love often pisses on, to hold my hand and sit on the edge of the fountain until True Love comes back from the grave [...] he says that True Love takes his pants off and has babies all over the bathroom floor he says that True Love always knew I was a bitchcuntwhoreslut […]
The form of the second paragraph of the first letter appears as an elongated sentence, never ending on a single jab of dark humor, but building from one sharp turn into the next. Pafunda outlines the behavioral traits of a young boy who acts on desire alone. The young girl speaks matter-of-factly, and it’s the characterization of both "True Love" and the antagonistic boy that lead the scenario into situational humor. The speaker narrates matter-of-factly without any indication of concern for herself, with a precision to detail as if to say, this is the moment boys become men and no one will hold them accountable. Pafunda shows how a young girl’s emotional maturity prevails against the predatory nature of the antagonist.
In another letter to “Mom and Dad,” the young girl speaks to her own desires, openly describing her attraction to a young boy. In the following passage, the young girl takes on an active role as the observer who describes the young boy’s beauty. The voice the piece inhabits is traditionally spoken by male canonical writers, who speak of youthful men for their literary beauty, and so Pafunda’s shift in gender roles subverts an expected gender dynamic between observer and subject:
The day when I leap from the rafters of the boathouse in the park onto the back of that really beautiful boy, the one who looks like a deer when he moves, who rows and all his muscles threaten to leap up from his body and turn into doves and sing their way to heaven, that boy, who isn’t very smart is he, but who cares, he’s got the smartest mouth he’s got the rightest cock.
Pafunda associates this particular young boy to a “deer” and “dove,” the imagery of prey, which adds to the essence of subversion, particularly in regards to the sentence’s final phallic image of the “rightest cock.” The young girl expresses desire through observation rather than acting, showing the difference between her and the men she encounters in prior memoirs. Her desire is a balance between instinct and conscious effort to keep her gaze from being harmful toward those she watches. As the young girl’s active role as the observer undermines the traditional literary canon’s relationship between a male observer and male subject, Pafunda’s protagonist overturns expectations to offer a sublimated response to budding sexual actualization.
Danielle Pafunda’s The Book of Scab picks away at shame in order to openly discuss the revelations of a young girl who casually experiences situations of absurd realism. Through vignettes, readers experience growing up in toxic environments with a protagonist who is strong enough to tell her story across letters. Pafunda delivers a lyrical voice that feels momentarily meta during confessional statements throughout the novel’s investigation on youth: “Whatever I did, Mom and Dad, I did in the loveless swan’s gut of twilight.” The Book of Scab binds readers into beautiful, compact prose as if to imply the “scab” is a testimony of healing over the festering wound of a traumatic adolescence.
Miguel is a Lewis University alum. He is the Book Review Editor for Jet Fuel Review. He has been published in 30N, EFNIKS, Rogue Agent, The Rising Phoenix Review among other places. He is a fellow of the Wolny Writing Residency. He also writes for the Jet Fuel Review blog: Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column.