Speculative Debut Explores Life in the Shadows of a Surveillance

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I Keep My Exoskeletons To Myself by Marisa Crane

What’s it About?

A lyrical, speculative debut about a queer mother raising her daughter in an unjust surveillance state.

Shadows exist as reminders of people’s crimes in this poetic, disturbing and hopeful debut from Marisa Crane. I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself (Catapult) is a near-future, speculative sci-fi novel, set in an imagined United States that feels eerily similar to our own. The Department of Balance acts as the corrupt and prejudiced law enforcement of this world, doling out punishments to criminals and rule-breakers. Only, instead of imprisonment, wrongdoers are sentenced to a life carrying extra shadows — which serve as a warning to anyone they encounter.

Kris, a woman grieving her late wife, Beau, is burdened by a shadow of her own, and is worn down by the harsh reality of her world. But Kris isn’t alone — she has a baby, who was born with a second shadow. As Kris struggles with her unexpected role as a single mother, her status as a Shadester labels her a misfit, and blocks her access to the same protections as those without shadows.

Through the power of community and the strength of queer resistance, a spark of hope ignites the possibility of a new life for Kris and her child.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself has been named a Most Anticipated Book by Autostraddle, Lambda Literary, Ms., Independent Book Review and LGBTQReads, and was named A Buzziest Debut Novel of the Year by Goodreads. Marisa’s stunning debut has also received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, andgained coverage in publications like Them, Vogue, Buzzfeed, LA Times and more.

I had the opportunity to chat with Marisa Crane about their debut novel. They answer questions about the nuance of the novel’s themes, the importance of community and resistance, the books that inspire them, and what they’re working on next.

I Keep my Exoskeletons to Myself explores parenthood, grief, shame, and queerness. Tell me about how your novel presents these themes. Was a majority of it informed by your own experience?

I would say the overarching themes are informed by my experience, yeah, but not so much the details, characters, or narrative threads themselves. I’ve always been really interested in shame, particularly my own, which was a result of internalized homophobia, self-hatred and living in a society that told me people like me shouldn’t exist. 

The difference between guilt and shame, they say, is that guilt is about an action and shame is about who we are. In the past, every time I hurt a loved one, I told myself that I was a bad person, a monster, undeserving of grace or forgiveness. Shaming myself basically ensured that I’d do the same bad behavior moving forward — it didn’t give me room for healing or growth. And it took years for me to realize just how much I was hurting myself and even longer to shed all the built-up shame. 

Otherwise, a lot of the book was inspired by my own fears and anxieties about the future. My wife and I had only begun to talk about family-making when I wrote the first draft of this book, but I was scared for my kid, scared I would fuck it up, scared for the future. I decided to write into that fear, to explore it in a different world than my own, with different people, who, like me, like so many of us, are just trying to live and love.

Why did you feel like speculative/dystopian/science fiction was the right genre to tell this story? Could this story work in any other genres?

This story could and has worked in other genres. After all, at its heart, it’s really a story about shame, and shame knows no genre bounds, no restrictions. Take The Scarlet Letter — Hester Prynne is subject to public humiliation, shame, and a physical marker of her “wrongdoing.” 

That book, of course, was an entirely different story, but I suppose what I mean is that sure, of course, my novel could have been straight realism, and I could have explored grief, shame, stigma, punishment, paternalism and the harms of the criminal legal system (as opposed to “justice” since there is no justice under this system) in a realist setting, but it had never been on the table for me. 

The speculative element and world came well before the plot, inspired by a self-shaming poem I’d written years prior. I felt like, if I had invented an entire world just to shame myself in a poem, then that world must have some power behind it, it must be something worth exploring.

The novel tackles the idea of surveillance through the lens of a parent and explores the government’s relationship with our bodies. What impact do you hope this book will have, coming out shortly after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and amidst the ongoing threats to queer and trans existence? (Especially on top of the obstacles that queer people face in becoming parents.)

Man, to be honest, it’s always hard for me to answer this question because it feels arrogant, on my part, to assume that my book will have an impact! I do believe that literature can change lives, bring people hope, and make them feel seen and validated. Maybe what I hope is to inspire hope, to give readers permission to hope. 

It’s a scary time to be alive, especially for marginalized people whose bodies, rights, and lives are constantly under attack. To say otherwise would be delusional. But, we have each other. We have intoxicating, delicious and abundant queer and trans joy. We have trans and queer stories and histories to turn to. We have romance and friendship and romantic friendships and friends we fuck and fuck buddies we friend. We have our pleasure, our communities, our absolute refusal to be erased.

In an interview with Them, you discuss the importance of community when it comes to abolition and a future without prisons. Community is also a fundamental and essential part of being queer. What role does community play in your novel? Does it play a role in your writing process?

Community plays a huge role in my novel. At the start, Kris is pretty much alone except for her new baby. She hasn’t reconciled with her dad yet and she’s grieving Beau and not reaching out to old friends who sort of slowly fade into the background. 

And really, what that kind of solitude does to her is allow her to just sit with her extra shadow and her shame, to seep in it, which of course only compounds her depression, and anxiety, and grief. When she meets friends, real, lovely, messy, wonderful friends, she is able to release some of that shame and find true connection and joy. And she’s able to offer her best self to others, too. 

As a former college athlete, community has always been a vital part of my life, only we called it our team, our family. It took graduating from college and losing basketball as I knew it to understand just how much I needed a loving, queer community. How lonely it felt to be a person without it.

Your prose has been compared to the poet, Ocean Vuong, and your ideas have been compared to classics like 1984 and The Scarlet Letter. Was there fiction or media that informed this story? Is anybody else out there doing what you’re doing with this novel?

Oh gosh, so much has influenced and informed this story. Definitely the two books you named, as well as books like The Giver, Never Let Me Go, and A Brave New World. Regardless of the world, the dystopia created, what I really took away from my early reading years is that many dystopian books, at their core, are about connection. Finding connection, in community, in those who came before us, in words across time and space, in knowing that there is more out there. That moreness, that abundance, that desire — that’s what I wanted to get at with this novel. It’s less about the fascism and more about the people the fascism affects. Those people’s stories, who they love and how much.

I recently had a piece published about some other influences of mine, people who taught me that the only rule is to write about the shit you love, what excites you and keeps you jumping out of bed. Writers like Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and George Saunders, who are far more inventive than I’ll ever be, but whose worlds and settings and stories continue to inspire me. 

As for those who are doing what I’m doing, I’m really not sure what it is I’m doing. I know that I hope I’ve written a lyrical, propulsive, and affective novel that lingers with readers long after they’ve finished it. That sounds like a dream if I have accomplished that. 

And there are plenty of speculative/dystopian books and writers I think this describes: Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund, Lakewood and The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings, The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, X by Davey Davis, Docile by K.M. Sparza, and How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu, as well as many, many more.

I also recently read an ARC of Yours for the Taking by Gabrielle Korn and I am so so excited for readers to get ahold of this beautiful queer reckoning of a novel. Really, there is just so much work to shout about! Plus a million books I haven’t gotten to read yet — I forever feel behind. A great but exhausting problem to have.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is your debut novel. What’s next for you? Do you plan to write another novel?

Oh, yes. I’m currently revising my second novel with my agent. It’s a queer, coming-of-age story about basketball, desire, violence, ambition and the eroticism of doing something you love with someone you love. 

I’m also working on a sort of grief memoir about my identity as a basketball player — I played for my entire life, through college, and then once I graduated and lost it, it was really destabilizing and difficult for me. The memoir is a way to process that identity disruption as well as explore why it’s so hard for me to move on and let the game go.

Maybe I shouldn’t say too much but I’m a blabbermouth when it comes to the projects I’m excited about!

 

Marisa recommends you support your local indie or queer-owned bookstore when you purchase I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself. Click here for a list of indie bookstores in each state.

About Marisa Crane:

Marisa Crane is a writer, basketball player, and sweatpants enthusiast. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, No Tokens, TriQuarterly, Passages North, Florida Review, Catapult, Lit Hub, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. An attendee of the Tin House Workshop and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, they currently live in San Diego with their wife and child. I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is their first novel.

(Photo Credit: Jerrelle Wilson)

I Keep My Exoskeletons To Myself by Marisa Crane

Publish Date: 01/17/2023

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Author: Marisa Crane

Page Count: 352 pages

Publisher: Catapult

ISBN: 9781646221295

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