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“When I wake up, I have blood on my teeth and flesh in my mouth and my face is hot, and sticky.”

FERAL

The five-word blurb for Gemma Amor’s blistering new short story, FERAL, is as fitting as it is succinct: “Meet Margot. She’s had enough.”

The opening scene of FERAL channels Franz Kafka’s classic novella, The Metamorphosis, as Margot awakens in a disoriented state, coming to grips with a bodily transformation:

“Soon I will slough this suffocating flesh off completely, and I do not know what I will be underneath, but that is part of the joy of giving birth to oneself, I suppose: the uncertainty of the new.”

As a schoolgirl, Margot was bullied for her natural body hair and later became obsessed with meeting society’s expectations of femininity:

“I started the war with my body in earnest, and it consumed me.”

Margot’s self-consciousness regarding her body continues into adulthood: she is always careful to present a well-groomed, professional façade, masking her face with makeup and keeping her teeth an unnatural shade of white.

Then one day, Margot had enough. Exhausted by the daily obsession with her physical appearance, she decides to rebel against society’s norms. FERAL follows Margot as she discards her uptight persona and inhibitions, embracing her human body in its most natural state. However, Margot takes her newfound grittiness to an extreme, refusing to bathe or keep herself clean. Margot’s increasingly concerned boyfriend, Adam, genuinely loves her. But he looks on with despair, and perhaps a bit of disgust, as the stench from her unwashed body grows.

Meanwhile, Margot finds new kinship with a neighborhood fox, adopting some of its vulpine behavior:

“My evening foraging habits grew more determined. I began raiding people’s bins when they were left out the night before collection day, sharing any particularly good morsels with the fox, who was loyal to me now she had determined I was a good source of food.”

FERAL dips into zoomorphism as Margot assumes animalistic features, including elongated canine teeth and a heightened sense of smell. In this manner, the story echoes traditional werewolf horror, albeit with a more gradual transformation.

Although it would seem natural to describe FERAL as a story of feminist rage, its themes of freedom and nonconformity are much broader. More than anything, FERAL is a declaration of independence from the often nonsensical expectations that society places on people, especially women.

Through it all, Gemma Amor writes with a savage energy, embracing Margot’s insatiable hunger as she casts aside the inhibitive for a more instinctive existence. Altogether, FERAL is a ferociously good story, and not one I’ll soon forget.

5/5

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John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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