Reviewed in this essay: Lucy Hardin’s Missing Period by Stephen Marche. The Walrus Online Exclusive, November 2010.
In Lucy Hardin’s Missing Period, Stephen Marche’s digital novel currently available on The Walrus website, the question of personal choice is explored in the form of an unwanted pregnancy experienced by the titular character. Lucy wants to change her future, but she doesn’t know how: her first impulse is to take another pregnancy test, though she knows that it will only confirm what she already knows. Luckily for Lucy, Marche’s novel is also a choose-your-own-adventure, so she need not make all of the decisions herself.
Lucy, and the reader building his or her permutation, is part of the tradition of making choices that in Christian mythology begins with Eve, represented within Lucy Hardin in a copy of Massaccio’s Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise tucked into a mirror in her mother’s house. Like Eve, the reader (and Lucy) will find that once a choice has been made, there is no turning back: in Lucy Hardin, the reader is allowed only one save, and any attempt to go back or refresh the page will erase all progress.
But in Genesis at least the stakes were clear. In Lucy Hardin, blind choices that concern memories of the past, that have nothing to do with childbirth, lead inexorably to a future where Lucy gives birth, though she is reluctant and “unprepared for the boy.” In Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl, the other painting tucked into the mirror in her mother’s house, the laughing girl in the painting faces the viewer; a map of Holland, which she cannot see, hangs behind her. Opposite, the uniformed officer sits, turned from the viewer, facing the girl and the map. If the girl is Lucy, the map the “miasma” of her various futures, the officer represents not the reader, but the author, the only one in control of the story. Only Marche can see where the choices lead.
Considering the content and subject of Lucy Hardin, this message may be troubling. Lucy, who may or may not be prepared for, or even desire, a child, is not presented as the agent in her decision of whether or not to give birth, but rather an actor subject to the whims of an external fate decided by a male author. Lucy’s baby just happens, or a bicycle happens to hit her in the stomach. There is a version where Lucy obtains an abortion, but the difficulty in arriving at this conclusion (with any degree of foreknowledge) highlights Lucy’s lack of agency. Lucy Hardin is, as she expresses, “literally fucked”: at the mercy of her female body, like Eve in Massaccio’s painting, whose hands cover her breasts and genitals, while Adam’s only cover his face. Eve’s shame raises the proposition that her female sexuality is responsible for the decision that led to the “fall” of humankind, just as Lucy’s pregnancy alone, independent of her options, ruptures her future irreparably, turning it into what she sees as “mounds of fragments, disintegrating ruinously before her eyes”.