“Cutman” by Christa Faust
When I discovered Christa Faust earlier this year with her novel Money Shot, I started looking for other things she had written. Lo and behold I found that I already had a Faust-penned short story in A Hell of a Woman, the same anthology from which the Ken Bruen story I reviewed last week came. Judging an author by one book or story can be tricky. You only get a pattern the more you read. And, upon reading two stories by Faust, all I’ve got to say is watch out, brother, she’ll slay you with her words as soon as look at you.
A cutman is the guy at the side of a boxing ring whose sole job is to stop fighters from bleeding. Except that the Cutman in Faust’s story is a woman. But not just any woman. She is a self-described “big, ugly dyke” but she does her job well. And men respect her for it.
But not all men. Santiago Diaz, a fighter, doesn’t give the nameless Cutman a second look. He’s the boyfriend of the girl—Mia “Tinkerbell” Ortega—the Cutman loves and wants to be with. When Mia ends up in the hospital, suffering from injuries sustained in a “car accident” or “a fall,” the Cutman knows the truth. And knows who to blame. That’s when she decides to kill Diaz.
Like all good short stories, the ending is not what you see coming. Or, perhaps, you do, if you’ve got a twisted mind. Well, a lot of us do and we’re drunk on stories in books, TV, and film that ram the formulaic down our throats and tell us it’s something new. I’ll admit that I saw part of the ending coming, or rather, as I was reading the story, I thought “Wouldn’t it be interesting if this happened?” It did. Still, the story gives me a punch in the face when it happened.
If you listen to Faust in interviews, you’ll get an honest, blue-collar vibe from her: she’s just a storyteller, an 9-to5er who bangs out prose like other people mine coal or work a diner. But she’s gifted, especially with short, powerful sentences that can evoke a feeling in you that other authors need a paragraph or more to do. Here’s her narrator describing the boxing hall: “The raw, animal sound of the crowd. The fighters’ wordless language of grunts and heavy breath and the dull slap of leather against flesh. The smell of sweat under hot lights.” This isn’t Madison Square Garden. This is something old, beat-up, somewhat dingy where rules might be tossed if the price is right.
Stories, whether novels or short stories, need that killer opening line to reel us in and make us read the story. “Cutman” has two. The first line sets the hook: “Just because I’m a cutman, doesn’t mean I’m a man.” Okay, that’s intriguing, and, for folks like me, I needed to keep reading just to figure out what a cutman actually was. But then Faust really kicks it up with this sentence: “I guess you heard about what happened with Mia?” Okay, if you didn’t already have me, now I’m really there.
But I was already there. Faust has a way with prose that is not just workmanlike. Her characters sing with authenticity. She’s good. And I’ll read anything she writes. You should, too.
"Cutman" by Christa Faust, published in A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, edited by Megan Abbott, published by Busted Flush Press.