Normalising Touchy Subjects

Hello again, everybody.

First of all, I apologise for missing out on the past two Sundays. A lot has been happening over at my end and I was more than slightly busy. I had my exams, then one weekend I was out of town, and then I changed jobs, so slowly settling in the new workplace. My new office is near Cyber Hub, so if you know of any interesting places I should check out, feel free to share in the comments below.

This week I want to talk about a book that I recently read, Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue. It’s an anthology of short stories discussing various… well… touchy subjects. Before I picked the book, I presumed it to be a serious book about serious topics, and I wanted to educate myself on some of these issues which I have been intentionally and unintentionally ignoring. So I was expecting something heavy and thought-provoking. What it really turned out to be is this hilarious book which talks about touchy subjects as if they are normal; and this was a perfect take on them. The awkwardness that comes with talking about some of these topics is what Emma Donoghue used to her advantage and made the scenes feel awkwardly funny.

It contains 19 stories in total, all funny, sweet, and huggable. There are two stories from the book that are my favourites and which I would like to talk about.

The first short story in the book is titled Touchy Subjects. It is about a woman who doesn’t want to marry, but wants a child of her own and doesn’t want to adopt. She also doesn’t want to approach a sperm bank for the semen of some random guy she doesn’t know anything about. So she asks her best friend in a different country for help. Donoghue doesn’t reveal how the arrangement was finalised, but the deal was that the friend asked her husband to go meet the woman, who is visiting for two days and staying in a hotel, and donate his sperms. The man accedes and goes to the hotel. He enters the hotel room, very awkward moment, and the woman shows him the bathroom filled with adult magazines to help him and hands him a plastic cup. He goes in and locks the door. From there onwards, the story keeps jumping between the POVs of the man and the woman. It turns funny when Donoghue writes the part of the man and his thoughts about erection and the situation he was in.

I have never read a funnier and more accurate description of what goes on in a man’s mind during an erection. The dilemma that woman has is the morality of this all; it’s her best friend’s husband in there, and she is slightly embarrassed too for asking a favour like this. The conversations between the man and the woman are funny and the situations awkward. This is a great opening to this book and I had expected nothing less from Emma Donoghue.

Another one of my favourites is titled Pluck. Pluck follows the story of man who one day notices that his wife has a single hair on her chin. He is in constant confusion whether he should tell her about it. If he did tell her, it would make him seem sexist; the woman may lash out at him and he doesn’t want to be the bad guy. To convince himself that it’s okay, he goes on to the internet to read about how women in the past had hair growth on their chins. He tries hard to convince himself that it’s okay that his wife has facial hair. But he really feels that he should at least tell her about its presence (what if she doesn’t know?), but he doesn’t want to say it like it’s something bad and that she should remove it. Disturbed by the thoughts, one night he sits with torch and a pair of tweezers and tries to pluck it. The dilemma of whether it is normal for women to have hair on their chin and the openness of a relationship where you can talk about anything without feeling hesitant is hilarious and worth reading.

Similarly, the book talks about 17 other topics like discovering sexuality, death, good deeds, if dogs can be equivalent to babies and many other. It’s a light read that makes you aware about certain topics that you would otherwise not talk about, and perhaps have some clarity. The aim of the book, as I see it, was to normalise these topics so they are not sensitive or awkward, and Emma Donoghue achieved that with her prowess.

Thanks for listening to me. I will see you next Sunday.

You can buy your copy of Touchy Subjects here:

There is also a short film based on Pluck with screenplay by the author, Emma Donoghue, herself.


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