Short Story Review – Martha Batiz – María Times Seven (trans. Martha Batiz)

Seven strong and healthy baby girls had issued from their mother’s swollen belly, screaming at the top of their lungs.

Oh, no.

Overwhelmed with seven tiny baby girls, Doña Toña elects to call them all María, which unwittingly condemns them to a life mirrored, six times over, for each of the girls.

As they grew older, the seven Marías saw their problems multiply sevenfold. In all, they suffered forty-nine cases of appendicitis, measles, and mumps, fourteen fractures, innumerable scrapes, sprains, head colds, and upset tummies, not to mention the terrible pandemic of toothaches brought on by one of them who had a particular predilection for sweets.

The games with numbers, above, should key the reader into what kind of story they are reading.  This is a fable, or at the very least, a story of fantasy, shifted ever so slightly away from the realm of the real.  Batiz encourages this perception early, and throughout maintains a heightened vocabulary and sentence structure which recall fairy tales, cautionary stories, whispered prophecies of doom.  This is a story to murmur about the fire as the night deepens, warning the others who remain still awake.

As the Marías age and become older, they share all experiences.  When one is hurt, the others feel the pinch.  When one is happy, the others smile for no reason at all.  And then puberty hits, and love, and when one María is off having a tryst with a young man, the other six at home strip naked and convulse in masturbatory ecstasy, unsure at the pleasure their body is feeling but unable to avoid.

Doña Toña, who has put up with so much, sees this display of wantonness as a breaking point for herself and her family.  She takes the María who is being loved and forbids her from seeing Juan, which results in tears, first from one, and then from all.  Seven Marías all crying, anguished at their missing Juan, sad that the other María is sad, compounding sadness, endless sadness, over and over and over:

Not only did the tears of the Marías never cease; they became more and more abundant. María grieved away perpetually for Juan, but she also bemoaned the sorry state in which her sisters found themselves. They, in turn, cried because of María’s desolation and despondency, and also at their own plight. Their desperation mounted as they looked at each other and felt there was no escape from their misery.

And then a solution is found – the tears are bottled and sold to people who need to be able to feel sadness themselves, for various reasons, from the pure to the less so.  And then in a short while the Marías have cried themselves to death, shrivelled like fruit left out in the sun, dried and dusty.

For me, for my taste, this is the kind of story I can appreciate in short form, but I am not able to resonate emotionally or intellectually with the form, structure, contents, or style.  I think Batiz is a strong writer, and I think she hits all of the write note in this dark fairy tale, but fairy tales are not for me.

The idea of the shared orgasm, and using the tears as a way to earn money, are very clever, and took the story down unexpected paths.  I like this – I think it is more creative than a story like this ‘needs’ to be.  Another kind of doom could have been chosen, but Batiz chose an interesting, less obvious route, and it is to her credit, and to the story’s strength.

I am grappling with this review, because it is hard to pinpoint anything wrong with the story, other than it is not for me.  And that’s ok.  Not everything is for everyone.  I would suggest that if the central conceit appeals (and it is an appealing idea), then please, read the story and enjoy the work.  But if, like me, you aren’t a fan of fairy tales, even fractured ones, then perhaps not.  Perhaps not.

María Times Seven is a short story by Mexican-Canadian writer Martha Batiz.  You can read the story online at Words Without Borders.

Author Martha Batiz
Title María Times Seven
Translator Martha Batiz
Nationality Mexican-Canadian
Publisher Words Without Borders

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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