Review of Megan Falley’s Redhead and the Slaughter King
Megan Falley’s Redhead and the Slaughter King from Write Bloody Publishing, 2014, is a collection of poetry documenting a coming of age story in a fragmented world. This sense of fragmentation is illustrated by the way that the book’s 84 pages are broken into sections, beginning with V and counting down to I. This collection is an exercise in lineage, presenting the reader with the struggles and shortcomings of the speaker only to trace them back to each member of her family. Every one of the five sections of Redhead and the Slaughter King increasingly narrows the collection’s focus to the root of the many stories presented: the speaker’s parents. The poems countdown to the story of her birth, reaching both forward and back to pull events into the narrative.
The title poses the question, “who is the redhead and who is the slaughter king?” The opening section of the book leads us to believe that the speaker is the redhead being slaughtered by an abusive partner. The collection opens with “Backhanded Apology,” a reclamation of power. The story of the collection then drifts to a painful reckoning of victimization with “The Balance.” Slowly, the poems wind their way to the speaker’s family, revealing they are the people she relied on when untangling herself from a toxic relationship as well as the people who taught her submission to begin with. This revelation shows that there is no single slaughter king of this collection.
By examining these influences, the collection traces the path between who Falley’s speaker is and where she came from. The book is filled with poems of awareness that call themselves out for exposing the secrets of those she loves. The speaker tells the story of her brother’s addiction over the course of several poems including “Golden Boy” and “The Third Ceremony.” “Golden Boy” tackles the brother’s descent into addiction. Falley writes about the speaker’s memories of her brother from their childhood, “Before I found / my piggybank slaughtered – my brother’s mouth / filled with more pills than teeth.” This is followed by “The Third Ceremony,” in which the speaker attends a version her brother’s funeral and says that he “Pawned all the people who could have been here / for highs even [he] knew weren’t worth it.” This presents the brother as a careless addict who has put an incredible amount of strain on his sister. Falley doesn’t leave this as the only image of the brother. She follows these poems with “An Apology to my Brother,” a striking poem that reveals the speaker’s ethical insecurities in telling someone else’s story. After making these amends, the poem concludes with, “It’s just – I spent so many years preparing for that funeral. All my dresses are black.” Falley’s decision to close the poem with this statement expresses the tone for the whole book. The stories of this family are presented, in snapshots, to allow a larger image to form, to show the reader how this woman grew under the shadow of these experiences, and how her awareness of that shadow clouds her current view.
Falley continues this theme of weaving stories and then retracting her statements only to give her reader a sharper image of each character presented. Another fine example of this is “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” a poem describing what happened when the speaker’s father delivered a subpoena to the man his daughter filed a restraining order against. The speaker calls her father “harmless” and expresses disappointment in him because he was a “gentleman” to her perpetrator. Falley follows this with “Retraction to ‘A Gentleman’s Agreement’” in which the speaker tells a story of her father’s bravery. This decision to “retract” the previous poem while allowing it to remain in the collection showcases the dilemma of the intimate nature of families: how does someone attribute their pain to their family without condemning them? This is a line that Redhead and the Slaughter King finds its balance on.
Redhead and the Slaughter King is a series of poems that honors its speaker’s perspective while acknowledging how narrow that lens can be. Falley’s speaker makes no apologies about the stories she tells, choosing to leave in the moments that most would shy away from. This is what makes the poems stick, to each and to the reader, their truth is gripping and keeps the reader moving from one to the next, eager for more of the story.