Can You Still Be a Femme Fatale if You’re Butch?

Can You Still Be a Femme Fatale if You’re Butch?

The protagonist of K. Patrick's “Mrs. S,” a boarding school worker questioning her gender expression, falls into a torrid affair with the headmaster's wife. Credit…Melanie Lambrick June 20, 2023, 10:47 a.m. ET When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. MRS. S, by K. Patrick When we think of bodies in , we generally consider them in relation to other objects or other people. Characters glance in a mirror to examine their features and we're allowed a brief glimpse of cheekbone, jawline or eye color. Are they tall or short? Nondescript or peculiar? Lanky-limbed or compact and muscular, like a stout pony? We understand how a body moves through a narrative because we've received a set of keys and instructions for how to operate the vehicle. In “Mrs. S,” the debut novel by the Glasgow K. Patrick, bodies exist as a site of ongoing construction. Perhaps this is because our protagonist does not know how she feels the particular body that she inhabits. And the questions that crop up because of that unknowing make for an entirely captivating read. Our narrator works at an all-girls English boarding school. The girls call her “Miss” instead of “Matron,” a term she thinks she'd prefer because “at least I could taste a little butch in it.” Here is one of the book's chief themes: what it means for a woman to exist outside the bounds of socially approved femininity. It's not that the narrator's body marks her as butch, necessarily; instead, we are asked to consider how the term might be something she could ingest — “taste a little butch” — and therefore embody. It's a lick of feeling, that taste of butch; she wants to be seen as strong and capable. That the girls call her “Miss” in lieu of “Matron” is significant in another sense as well: To the extent that she's exploring her sexual identity, she's going through a re-adolescence of sorts. Though the narrator is older than the girls she's charged with watching, she fumbles through interactions with other […]

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