A Hard Worker by Gina Zucker

Tin House Magazine - Issue 33 - Fantastic Women

Gina Zucker’s A Hard Worker is an excellent example of short fiction at its finest. In the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Zucker’s future for the women in her story is a bleak one. Certain social conditions exist in the future that restrict women in the story to certain roles. In Atwood’s story we are left to the "Historical Note" section where she tells us what eventually ends up happening, at least to humanity as a whole. Here in Zucker’s story, we are limited in scope to a small moment in the narrator’s life, a realization of exploitation. The beauty of fiction is that through Zucker’s story, we can see in a few short pages the exploitation that occurs, where the narrator has lived an entire life before she realizes the truth of the situation.

The simple-minded narrator, Dolly, lives at Mrs. Robert’s Home for Girls (a brothel). She is a member of a service team and she serves her clients with zest and obedience to earn rewards and privileges. Her “sister” Annique was also left on the doorstep of the home, and the girls are raised with others to specifically serve their clients. While on a service call, Annique and Dolly watch a film clip that has been altered to become extremely visually stimulating, almost to the point of causing orgasm. Obtuse Dolly is not affected at all by the film, and is terrified by what is happening to Annique. Dolly is adamant about how they are not to receive pleasure from their clients, and here is Annique doing just that. Dolly ends up confused and runs out of the room after hurting one of the clients.

Zucker combines her complex concept of visual stimulation via chromatic saturation with her narrator’s limited capacity for understanding to explore several social issues. Are the readers to see this as a bleak future, where women are objects, and pleasure isn’t important, or because of our dubious narrator, to see that pleasure is being explored and defined, even worth scientific experimentation and only these prostituted women are being exploited? Is the situation as dire as it appears to be for humanity, or just for poor Dolly? It would appear that Annique may have been purchased and freed of her circumstances, or she may have been sold into a different kind of experimental slavery. Either way, Dolly is a changed person and it seems obvious that her eyes are being opened to the fact that she is being used and refuses to be used in the future.

Zucker cleverly uses the device of s simple-minded narrator to get around dense scientific jargon that may have cluttered the narrative. She doesn’t have to go into the details of how visual stimulation works in her short fiction world, because she is limited to what the narrator Dolly knows and can understand. Even the name Annique is masterful in that is resembles antique and unique. Is the character an antique, in that she should give up being an individual with wants and desires and give in to her lot in life and serve her clients, or is she unique, in that she can take pleasure from them and has held on to her individuality?

In the story, the Janssen brothers (who are the clients the Dolly and Annique are to service) have altered a film clip, possibly from Jaws, to cause physical arousal after viewing. A tip of the cap here goes to the Wachowski Brothers, and a scene in Matrix Reloaded where The Merovingian causes a woman in the matrix to have an orgasm from eating a slice of digital chocolate cake. This theme does not appear to be too far fetched, as many scientists theorize that virtual pleasure is in the near future, as many consider pleasure to only be a matter of sending certain types of electrical stimulus to the brain.

Personally, for pleasure, I'll take more of Zucker's prose.