In the hands of an author like Heather Massey, it is also very, very hot. Hot enough to melt anyone’s circuits.
In Massey’s latest novella, The Watchmaker’s Lady, the “lady” in question is a combination of clockwork bits, metal parts, and a lifelike porcelain head. Or is she?
As the story begins, Matthew Goddard is one lonely watchmaker in the midst of New England in 1840. In our terms, he’d be a geek or a nerd. He enjoys fiddling with clocks and watches, and while he would like to marry and have some female companionship, he’s not interested in someone who wouldn’t provide interesting intellectual conversation as well as stimulating sexual escapades.
But Matthew is nothing if not resourceful. On one of his regular parts-buying expeditions to the local general store, he spies a mannequin’s head in a scrap heap. To Matthew, that dusty and bedraggled bisque face represents the woman of his dreams. Possibly literally.
Matthew acts as if “Isabel” requests that he take her home with him. He bargains with the shopkeeper for her head, and returns to his home in a lather of expectation. He lavishes care on the life-size and eventually life-like porcelain head, holding long conversations with “Isabel” as he washes her face and combs out the tangles in her long dark hair.
Matthew treats her as his lover, even as his wife, to the point of fashioning a body for the head. In fact, increasingly complex and complicated bodies, first from straw, and later from brass and clockwork mechanical parts.
However, Matthew Goddard is only a clockmaker; he works for his living. Creating Isabel’s body out of brass and parts is expensive. And in their intimate conversations, Isabel tells Matthew that she wants clothing as well. As a single man, Matthew has no socially acceptable method of purchasing female clothing, not to mention ladies’ “unmentionables”!
But Matthew is adept at creating small mechanical objects, clockworks in other words. And in that time and place, many ladies suffered from what was then called “hysteria”, an imbalance of the so-called “female humors”. Matthew creates a secret business in vibrators, which he demonstrates to a select clientele. His clients pay him in articles of clothing, which he uses to dress Isabel.
Everything is fine, until one of his clients wants more from Matthew than he is willing to give. She spills the beans to her husband, selectively edited, of course. The townsfolk head for the store with fire and pitchforks.
Matthew’s only desire is to save Isabel at all costs. Their love was worth everything to him. But is Isobel real? Or only a clockwork?
Escape Rating A-: This was wild, and there were some parts of the wild that were a little bit true!
As I read the story, a part of me kept wondering if Isabel was real, or if the whole thing was in Matthew’s head. It is very, very easy to get taken along with his delusion, or illusion, that Isabel is a real person, and not a clockwork, especially when he’s making love with her.
You’re also never totally sure how far he’s gotten with making her into an automata or android as we would think of it, either. Does Isabel become self-aware? We never know.
There is a Pygmalion aspect as well. Matthew creates the woman he wishes existed, and then she falls in love with him. Pygmalion is one of the great myths, and it’s been told and re-played multiple times, George Bernard Shaw wrote one famous version of Pygmalion, which in turn inspired My Fair Lady. Of course, the creation doesn’t always fall in love with her creator!
The business about the vibrator business, that part is from history. If you want to read a hilarious account this plus some of the other even weirder things that went on in the name of health, try The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle (never judge a book by its movie).
The Watchmaker’s Lady is a terrific steampunk/clockpunk erotic story with a delicious surprise at the end. A surprise that you notice I am not spoiling for you.
As one of my Blogo-Birthday giveaways, one lucky reader will get their very own digital copy of The Watchmaker’s Lady (PDF, EPUB or .mobi) and find out what the surprise twist is for themself. (If you don’t win, I highly recommend buying your own copy. It’s definitely worth it!)
The deadline to enter the giveaway is 12:01 a.m. EDT on the morning of April 8, 2012. I will announce the winner on April 9th. To enter, leave a comment that answers the following question: If you could build an automaton of any kind (robot, android, etc.,) what would you build it to be? or do? Also, please let me know what format (PDF, EPUB, or .mobi) you want the book in if you win.