By Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Elena Brousard-Norcross
As a reader at Colorado Review, I often encounter work that I pass on to the editors with the hope that I will see it again—in print. “Ripped,” by Ashley Wurzbacher, from the Spring 2019 issue, is definitely one of those stories. When I first read it, I was drawn in by the protagonist, Iris, by her voice and observations. Also, she’s a twin like me. And her twin, Circe, is competing in the Superfit Goddess Challenge. Iris is not. And that is where the divergence begins. “We hardly overlap,” Iris says, mourning the loss of that concentrated closeness with her sister. These small petals of perfect insight into Iris’s conflict made me understand her from the first page, her struggles and desires, and want to see where her story goes.
There are so many themes swirling and catching beautifully upon one another in this story that surface at just the right time. There is loyalty to family, especially to an identical twin, played out in the changes that both women go through in their bodies and their understanding of each other. There is a motif of being watched and judged: Circe is doing competitions that put her body on display, while Iris is being watched by a man who asks her to do sexual favors, though she can’t understand why since she doesn’t see herself as desirable. There is a line that makes a reader enter Iris’s mind so vividly, directly addressing the reader so that we can’t help but agree with her actions:
But I’ll tell you this: when he tells me to do things, I burn in the best way. I become very aware of the teeth in my mouth, of each fine hair on my arms, of my toenails, of my quiet breathing. I swear I can feel my own fingernails pulsing. I wake up.
Throughout the story, a bittersweet desire emanates from Iris, who wants to be with her twin, to be who they had been before: as one. “I miss the way things were before we began to wonder what else we could be” captures that ache for another who has changed and is leaving someone behind. The changes that occur because they are moving into adulthood and becoming separate people frightens her, and it is a fascinating subject to explore.
Wurzbacher writes Iris with an honest voice, uncomfortable in her body, so unlike her sister, but blundering in knowing how to fix it. Some of these confessions are at once laugh-out-loud hilarious and mournful: “Now here I am pantless in a highly sensitive Libertarian’s log cabin with no one to tell about it.”
Iris’s observations are cutting and absorbing. The world of bodybuilding is rendered in specific detail and captures all the physique-bending means one goes about to achieve perfection. The spray tans, butt glue, and meal prepping all create a rock-solid fictive dream that the reader buys into. But we never lose focus on what Iris is observing amid the judging and rhinestone-studded bikinis: “A certain gusto to the way she moved her body, the body that used to be our body, a new and confident vitality that was foreign to me.” Again, this speaks to that loss of one’s other half that only twins can understand, another life played out in a person who is one’s exact reflection. We see this again when Iris helps Circe prepare for the competition and sees the muscular body so unlike her own now: “Is this what’s underneath me, this landscape, submerged? Do I want to know?”
Lines like these cut to the story’s bones and foreground the questions it asks, turning the questions to us, asking if we could leave behind our comfort, get beyond the flab of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and understand who we actually are. And you don’t have to be a twin to appreciate a story like that.