ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a love child of Harry Mathews’s Singular Pleasures and Amelia Gray’s AM/PM. The result, Joanna Walsh’s Grow a Pair: 9 ½ Fairytales About Sex, is a raunchy, absurd little tome of loosely connected, bite-sized fables: anthropomorphic dicks who crave pussy but don’t recognize cunts, dicks that grow on trees, genital-less citizens swapping out objects between their legs to seek pleasure, a princess in search of her One True Cock, cunts who are also witches, a woman who can cause others’ orgasms via button. The stories are recognizable in some senses — using the form of the fairy tale, and referencing familiar ones — but they are also peculiar and deeply queer, a mix of penetration and frottage, and set in a kingdom where sex is a unit of understanding; foregone conclusion and miracle both.

But, like sex, Grow a Pair is also greater and more complicated than its parts. The button-pressing woman could have done anything with her gift, Walsh writes — porn, sex therapist, self-help guru — but “she only wanted to carry on pressing the button until she found her ex-lover and made him come until he possibly died.” (And her trials only begin there; they continue throughout the book, and round out the project with a grim afterword.) And when the genital-less citizens suddenly find themselves with genitals — courtesy of the witch who is also a cunt — things don’t simply right themselves: “And after the orgy was over, some people went home happy and others caught diseases, some of which killed them, and still others were thrown out by their partners because, you know, life isn’t a fairy tale.”

And that is the pulsing, throbbing heart of Grow a Pair: that beneath its surreal, explicit skin, it is an astute exploration of the many permutations and complications of desire.


Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017.