First published in Romania, this novel gives voice to a 21st-century Scheherazade, who recounts her life to a man from whom she is ready to part ways forever in a meditation on femininity, life, death, and the cosmos.
While Cârneci seems to draw upon Hélène Cixous’s and Luce Irigaray’s post-structuralist feminism, she also reiterates Simone de Beauvoir’s idea that one isn’t born a woman, but one becomes one through the role imposed upon her by society ... Like her French predecessors, Cârneci attempts to challenge not only the rapport between man and woman, but an entire mode of perception. In this sense, her feminism seems to be her own (personal) creation—at times, existentialist, at times, mystic, her goal is, ultimately, to understand the infinite of the universe, which encompasses the small and insignificant body of the narrator ... Feminism aside, Cârneci is, in the end, an original writer and a masterful stylist, whose mastery of language comes vividly across through Sean Cotter’s dexterous translation. Her stylistic ingenuity is felicitously rendered by her translator, as in this case ... Her novel transgresses feminist ideology, proposing a vision that implies a change in human perception, a vision attempting to unify the outside and the inside, the object and the subject of all human experience[.]
This is a poet’s novel for readers seeking to be transported by language and image rather than story and character ... While its exploration of the experience of the female body is groundbreaking, to me the aim seems more spiritual than political, going beyond gender questions to ask the bigger ones, like: what is the meaning of life? ... Perhaps it is because the catalyst is often sexual that the work is considered feminist. Carneci’s writing (seamlessly translated by Sean Cotter) is fluid; it steadily accumulates force across paragraphs, and always with a rich and varied lexicon. The most extraordinary and strangest passages appear in her writing about sex ... This wonderfully strange, hermetic, and lucid novel offers a respite from the toxic cocktail and will perhaps inspire attunement to mysterious, internal images.
Fem flirts with the impulses of a critic to deconstruct its many scenes as gendered experiences, pulling from a scholarly tradition of gender studies, feminist theory, and queer studies to unravel their meanings. Arranging moments like a scientist setting up an experiment, Cârneci strings her novel with an analytical edge—then discards the compulsion to deconstruct ... moments of embodied biology feel exalted in large part because the language and framework (namely, visions and dreams) used to convey them look deeper at the ordinary through extraordinary means ... Mostly, it’s an evaluation of moments, deeply personal even when replicated in millions of organisms a thousand times a day.