Staircases Will Outnumber Us by Jessica Roeder
-Reviewed by Sarah Gonnet–
Staircases Will Outnumber Us is an eerie tale told by a female collective of mothers. The choral voice and the atmosphere immediately reminded me of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides. Although the women speak for themselves in this chapbook, their voices are childlike enough to be intensely reminiscent of the version of Lux and her sisters which is recited by the boys in Eugenides’ work.
However, looking at atmosphere and voice is where the comparison to The Virgin Suicides has to end. The situation described by Roeder’s chorus is completely different. The women she gives a voice to describe the world the small world they live in, all the while looking after their babies. They inhabit a clearing in an unnamed forest. They complete their chores together, make sisal rope to sell, and care for each other’s babies. However this is far from a story of a peaceful matriarchy. Overshadowing their lives is the sinister figure of ‘father’. It is fairly quickly revealed that father is not only father to the mothers, but also the father to their own children.
The father figure is also the women’s filter for the wider world. When talking about the world beyond the forest clearing, they only repeat father’s stories. It seems as if father’s experiences have fused with their own.
We also hear about father returning to the women, usually in a stolen car, with new ideas on how to make money. When the money from the sisal rope no longer satisfies him, he has the idea of selling Bibles, and then of teaching the women circus skills. Each of these ideas plays out with the women doing all of the work that needs doing.
Even in this small chapbook there is a tension that builds up with each prose poem. The reader is guided into wondering if the women will escape from father, as they slowly become more conscious of their situation. Hoping for a happy ending seems a bit farfetched, yet there is something buried deep that seems to shift as the story moves on. Maybe the collective voice is a symbol of the women’s growing unity.
The very fact that Roeder has gone to the effort to make this a choral piece also suggests that maybe a growing unity between the women is something she is trying to bring attention to. Reading this book right now, in the current climate, has led to threads in my mind linking the book to the #MeToo movement. It is certainly true that in Staircases Will Outnumber Us Roeder presents us with a group of abused women who work together in a community. But the question remains one about unity. If the women are growing to work together, moving towards escaping from father, it could almost be a symbol for our times- where abused women are finally supporting each other, confronting their abuse and escaping their abusers. The book was published in 2017 so it was probably written during the build up to #MeToo and the sense of unity in the text seems relevant to this current moment in time. The atmosphere which surrounds #MeToo, and the stories of abuse which are still coming out, make this book a highly pertinent read. Hopefully more books, like this one, which explore the nuance of how abuse effects women, individually or as a group, will be written in the coming years.
One thought on “Staircases Will Outnumber Us by Jessica Roeder”
Thank you, Sarah. I’m touched by this reading.
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