A few weeks ago I was made vaguely aware of a Flavorwire article about trigger warnings. Later on, as I read Kill Marguerite I found myself writing “trigger warning” in red pen before almost every story in the collection. I know that for many the argument for TWs is to save pain and suffering for those who spend day in and day out struggling to avoid triggering material—it’s just common internet courtesy. I very much respect that, but I’m left thinking about how these warnings prevent the dialogue that the content often necessitates.
Megan Milks’s stories deal with bulimia, hyper-violent BDSM fantasies, bullying, substance abuse, incest. These stories are, in many cases, hard to read (I want to quote directly but I’m unsure if I should). The violence in the eponymous story as a queen bee strips a hapless nerd naked to humiliate her makes me feel physically ill:
Still reeling from being pushed into the dirt, [Caty] protests and tries clumsily to get up—but Shelly is already kneeling on her shins and Marguerite is straddling her torso, yanking Caty’s shirt up over her face.
“Aww… look at the fat baby’s lumps of lard.” Marguerite jabs Caty’s left breast with a stick.
Caty cries out and tries again to get up. No use. Marguerite prods the other breast, then moves to Caty’s stomach, poking and prodding it with the stick. Caty Whimpers.
This violence pales in comparison to Patty’s sadomasochistic fantasies delivered in explicit detail within the story “Slug,” but what really makes these stories difficult to read are the issues they address because they are essential to talk about.
Megan Milks writes about the unfulfillment of humanity through its attempts at wish fulfillment. In “Kill Marguerite” a chubby tween’s revenge fantasies are seen through an 8-bit video game filter replete with extra lives hidden within frogs and jet packs stashed in high tree branches. “Floaters” (written with Leeyanne Moore) details the toxic relationship between a stand-up comedian and his bulimic girlfriend, which he mines for material (all while tilting the bathroom mirror to watch her vomit and “press[ing] his boner into the edge of the bathroom counter.”) The closet drama “Circe” is a self-aware mish mash of Joyce’s Ulysses, Sylvia Plath, and the Odyssey where Circe turns to Plath who turns to Matilda who turns to shoving a toothbrush down her throat because Ulysses/Ted Hughes/Stephen Dedalus “touched [her] fat stomach.”
Maybe transgressive art is so essential because it is triggering. It causes the audience to be reviled, and then it makes them think about why they’re so disgusted. This is what Milks is doing in her story collection, she’s holding up a mirror to our cultural practices, our unspoken sins, our prejudices. I just fear that this book—which I think is essential reading for the social justice set—will go unread by many because of a fear of the difficult-to-read.