Zenia is a Fish–Or Is She?

The Books


As I Lay Dying

Author: William Faulkner

Genre: Fiction/classic

Original Publisher: Johnathan Cape

Published: 1930

Number of Pages: 267

Anse Bundren & his 5 children attempt to bring the body of their wife/mother to her original town for burial. Chaos ensues.

Although the entire family travels with Anse on his mission to bury their mother, each has his or her own motives and individual story. One of the most striking moments of the novel for me took place right at the beginning and centered around Vardaman, the youngest of the Bundrens. Vardaman catches a large fish and brings it home to be cleaned for dinner. Everyone is gathered around Addie Bundren’s deathbed, though, and no one has time for the child. He ends up cleaning the fish himself—something he has never done before. After Addie dies, Vardaman reasons that like his mother, the fish was once alive and is now dead and comes to the conclusion, “My mother is a fish.” He repeats this truth throughout the novel.

Fair warning, this is probably one of Faulkner’s most approachable novels, but it’s still a challenging read.


The Robber Bride

Author: Margaret Atwood

Genre:  Fiction

Publisher: Doubleday

Published: September 1993

Number of Pages: 466

This is technically a retelling of the obscure fairytale “The Robber Bridegroom,” but Atwood’s novel takes on such a life of its own that I believe it deserves to be called a story of its own.

The novel takes place in Toronto in the early 1990s and tells the stories of three middle-aged Canadian women who have known each other since college and have, over the years, all had a man stolen by Zenia. Tony, an ambidextrous college professor of war; Roz, an heiress turned-entrepreneur turned-mother-of-three; and Charis (pronounced “Care-us”) the yoga-loving, tarot-card-believing hippie; all relive their own worst nightmare when they catch sight of Zenia in a restaurant at the beginning of the novel. Did I mention that Zenia was supposed to be dead? She was. That’s the thing about Zenia, though. She defies logic, among other things.

The Ties That Bind

Although the two novels have striking differences and take place in completely different times, they do share one very similar feature: an anti-hero who attracts other characters into his or her orbit seemingly without effort and ensnares each before they know what even happened.

Anse Bundren is mostly characterized as selfish, helpless, and a basic failure as a father and a husband. Even so, he is almost always able to weasel his way to what he wants. Anyone who wanders into Anse Bundren’s life will find themselves forever engulfed by Anse and Anse’s needs and Anse’s wishes.  In my own personal opinion, the one character who most readers describe as crazy is the only one who actually manages to escape Anse’s grip. The method may be questionable, but there you are.

Zenia is a skilled liar and manipulator. She tells each of her victims exactly what they need to hear in order to get what she wants, and Zenia always gets what she wants. She slips from the role of former child prostitute to a cancer victim to Jewish WWII orphan as easily as a new dress. It is never a good idea to underestimate this woman. At some point, Tony alludes to the notion that Zenia is a vampire by observing of her kind, “You have to invite them in.” Zenia indeed gets each of the three leading ladies to “invite her in” at one point or another throughout the novel.

Novels like As I Lay Dying and The Robber Bride serve as a reminder of how destructive a single person can be to an entire group of people once he or she has enough attention.

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