Open Up

Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



First Advisor

Jeffrey DeShell

Second Advisor

Elisabeth Sheffield

Third Advisor

Kelly Hurley


This novel follows a female protagonist, “the woman,” as she wreaks havoc at a suburban backyard wedding. The narrative is nonlinear, with movements in the woman’s recent past, in addition to nested stories that she “tells” to those around here. Three of these stories focus on her time at “the mansion,” where she completes three different sexual acts that are also tied to traditionally feminine tasks: shaving, sewing, and application of make-up and jewelry. Others deal with virginity, polyamory, and sexual violence. The novel is pornographic and explores how the sexual imaginary can inform and complicate agency, power, subjectivity, and feminism. Throughout the text, the woman interacts with a teenage girl named Charlotte, who is horrified and captivated by the woman.

Judith Butler writes, “The critical promise of fantasy...is to challenge the contingent limits of what will and will not be called reality” (Undoing Gender 28-29). Pornography, to Butler, is a form of fantasy that “‘represents’ uninhabitable positions and hyperbolic ideals,” subverting power relations and gendered expectations to expose their construction (“The Body…”). bell hooks calls women to write explicitly about sex, arguing, “By conceding the turf of sexuality to the phallocentric sexist media, feminists…become complicit with the conservative repression of public discourse of sexuality,” a repression that denies a “feminist vision of the sexual imaginary” in which “sexual pleasure can be sustained and ongoing, so that female agency can exist as an inalienable right” (79-81). The tension between the literary and pornographic – and why those distinctions exist – propel the narrative, as do the tensions between the feminine and the masculine, dominance and submission, desire and action, pain and pleasure, the experiences of the body and subjectivity, and transgression and conformity.