The Rage-Trance and Fragmented Narratives

SJ Sindu

Publisher’s note: Our anthology The Female Complaint includes two contributions by SJ Sindu, “Husband Hunting, or The Survival of Indian Arranged Marriage in Worcester, Massachusetts” and “Test Group 4: Womanhood and Other Failures.” Each story consists of brief, seemingly disparate segments, stitched together by the common theme of the characters’ experiences of suffocating gender expectations in their Sri Lankan and Indian families. Here the author describes the anger that fueled her writing and inspired the use of the fragmented narrative form.

For the first five years of my serious writing career—I’m talking here from the time I decided to pursue writing in my junior year of college to the time I graduated from my master’s program—I wrote from rage. Pure, unadulterated, fresh—rage against my body for the way it stubbornly held onto fat, against my family for their insistence on me getting an arranged marriage, against my school and town for making it so hard to live as a queer person.

The anger bubbled up in me every time I sat down to write. I wrote my first novel in the grip of that trance, and it didn’t surprise me when a recent reader told me she felt it was written by a crusader, by someone who had skin in the game.

But once I finished that novel—polished it and handed it over to my agent—the fury ebbed. It still simmers under me sometimes. I can feel it, just under the surface. But I can’t write from that rage anymore, not the way I did before. Now when I write, my mind is peaceful, more meditative than angry. And if I may say so, my writing is so much the better for it.

I’m saying all this to say that these two stories in The Female Complaint, “Husband Hunting” and “Test Group 4,” were both written, revised, and polished in this trance-like rage, one of the most curious effects of which plays out in form. My anger has fragmented these stories. Perhaps it’s because anger is not sustainable as an emotion. I could write only little bits and pieces at a time, couldn’t make myself stay in the trance for more than an hour. Almost all of the little fragments in both stories were written at different times, sometimes years apart, and then put together into a coherent whole. “Test Group 4” was the last short piece I wrote this way. It was as if after writing it, and after writing my novel, I had put those demons to rest.

An interesting thing happened after that. My writing got longer, more stretched out, less condensed and cramped. I discovered flow. I could stay in my newly meditative trance for hours. And as I mentioned before, I believe my writing is better because of it.

But I am thankful for the rage I felt, the rage I was able to channel during those first five years. Many beginning writers find it so hard to actually put words to paper, to train their bodies and minds to the rigor of writing day in and day out. But this rage made meeting that challenge easier. Writing became my own anger management program, and I siphoned fury through my pen, through my fingers onto the page.

Now, I offer it to you, this rage that has calcified and recorded my anger voice, in the hopes that if you’re feeling consumed by the type of fury that once took hold of me, you’ll find peace in these words.

SJ Sindu is a PhD student at Florida State University. Her creative writing has appeared in Harpur Palate, VIDA, Black Girl Dangerous, and elsewhere, and her debut novel is forthcoming in 2017 from Soho Press.

One thought on “The Rage-Trance and Fragmented Narratives

  1. Fascinating. I like the idea of finding peace through rage, and the different trance-states we write within, and what our writing becomes when we’re no longer entranced by emotions. Looking forward to reading your stories!

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