My husband is a hunter.
I am a knife.
— “I Am a Knife,” Roxane Gay
I’m fascinated by the raw, unsettling sensuality of this story, the way it is so frankly disturbing. Gay lingers in the violence, conflating it inextricably with the eroticism of the story it in a way that would make many readers uncomfortable, but the story does not judge this couple. In fact, the ending seems to commend the narrator’s violence, representing it as the quality in her that allows her to save her sister twice over.
That lack of judgment seems to be facilitated by the first-person narration in this piece. This narrator is forthright, matter-of-fact. “I felt no sadness or mercy for him,” she says of the truck driver whose life she claims to have traded for her sister’s. This is a character who has come to terms with herself, even the unseemly parts–revels in them, even–and, ultimately, finds power in them. Her perverse violence may not get her exactly what she wants–it’s her sister who has a child, not the narrator–but she is able to use that dangerous quality in herself to save the ones she loves.
The first-person narration also facilitates the non-realist aspects of this piece. When the narrator says, “The child is a boy or a girl. The child is strong. Its mother has two hearts,” there is no room for doubt. This voice insists on suspension of disbelief. Again, the straight-forward, matter-of-fact delivery sells us on the implausible aspects of the story. Short, factual sentences lead up to an impossible statement. Can someone really perform a Caesarian section using a fingernail? It doesn’t matter, this narration informs us. This is a speaker who is not interested in convincing us. She does not need to persuade. She insists.