The ambitious genre mashup of Sara Peters’s I Become a Delight to My Enemies is described by its publisher as “experimental fiction.” This is a somewhat catch-all term; in the current case, Peters combines poetry and short vignettes to tell the stories of girls and women who experience violence and displacement in an unnamed town. A follow-up to the author’s debut book, the poetry collection 1996, the new work is equally uncanny and vivid. It opens with a vignette titled “A Chorus of Ghosts,” which sketches the town and the “disembodied, polyphonic singing” of various female narrators whose voices cohere in a register of trauma and defiance. Alongside the collective voice of the main text, an individual “I” appears in the margins as a reminder of the specificity of the lives and experiences being described.
The first-person voice resurfaces in a series of vignettes titled “Factory Meat,” the first of which tells the story of a woman who encounters an injured old man soliciting help on the side of the road. When the narrator bends to examine the man’s wound, he sexually assaults her. Peters’s vignettes prove highly allusive: the character of the predatory man has resonance in a long line of stories. In particular, this scenario brings to mind the Bible salesman in Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” who tries to seduce a girl and runs off with her prosthetic leg after she refuses his advances. The title of Peters’s book is named for an abandoned Wi-Fi network – the notion of ghostly voices transmitted through the virtual ether is reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s short story “Black Box.”
I Become a Delight to My Enemies draws on a rich feminist tradition that borrows from both fiction and poetry. In the segment titled “Reva Recalls Her Youth, Abridged,” a pair of twins – the children of their uncle’s “activities” – narrate their story in prose-poem chapters, each a paragraph long. Peters’s stylistic hybridity invites the reader into gaps and absences; the result is a kind of complicit questioning of narratives that must be unlearned, relearned, and inhabited.