Short Stories 366:176 — “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” by Carmen Maria Machado

coverOkay, before I start talking about this particular story from Her Body and Other Parties, I need to explain I’ve never watched Law & Order. I’ve never liked police procedurals to begin with, and so the spin-off, SVU, never got on my radar either. Basically, I walked into this story with that strike against me. The second thing is I’ve been listening to this one as an audiobook, and although I’ve loved the audiobook thus far, I don’t think this particular piece of meta-fiction worked anywhere near as well on audio as it would have visually: the performer chose to not really pause anywhere in a significant sense, so after a few moments of not understanding what was going on, and why random words or phrases were being tossed into an ongoing narrative, I paused, looked up the story online, and found out how it worked: Carmen Maria Machado took all the titles from the first twelve seasons of Law & Order: SVU, and then wrote 272 episode blurbs to spin out a different story with the same main characters.

Once I knew that, I could enjoy it on its own level, and I should say I really did enjoy it. It’s basically a précis of a twelve season show I never saw (and never could see), where two detectives begin thinking they will be solving particularly horrible crimes and seeking justice, but instead, over time, become aware of supernatural strokes behind the crimes: ghosts begin to haunt the woman; the man learns his wife might have been abducted by aliens; the ghosts demand justice; both realize there are doppelgängers of themselves out there, doing their job and living their lives, only better; the ghosts possess the woman; guest characters appear, return, confess, pass on prophetic curses… Honestly? If this was the real show, I’d be bingeing it immediately.

“Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” is such a clever use of structure to tell a story, and it’s done in a really deft way. That I knew absolutely zilch of the foundation upon which the story was based (I can certainly infer a lot of people seemed to have shipped multiple characters), the end result was still really engrossing. I would perhaps suggest this not be one you listen to on audio but seek out in print, though. Since the whole thing is made up of “title: short blurb” I didn’t realize I’d started the next story in the collection because, well, it was another instance of “title” followed by prose, and it took me a minute or two to realize the characters weren’t showing up. I had to go back and replay just the ending to get where this meta-tale concluded.

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