The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman—Stories
The nineteen stories in The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman track the splintered trajectory of the title character, tracing a chickenscratch line of psychosexual development from childhood to old age. Two schoolgirls culminate their sexual exploration in a surreal act of cannibalism. A sister molds her dead brother’s body into a bird. A woman gives birth to balls of twine and fur (among other things). A sex worker engages a version of herself in a brothel of prostituted body parts. Courtney E. Morgan tears apart a host of archetypes and tropes of femininity— dismembering them, skinning them, and then draping them one by one over her characters like fur coats—revealing them as ill-fitting, sometimes comedic, sometimes monstrous, and always insufficient, masks. In stories that range from fairy tale to horror story, from confessional to erotica to creation myth, mutability, instability, and liminality are foregrounded, blurring the lines between birth and death, death and sex, tugging at the transitional spaces of adolescence and gestation.
“In The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman, Courtney Morgan has designed a map of the female body and a psychosexual journey. Weaving her way through different storytelling modes, including fairy tale and horror, fiction and nonfiction, literal and lyric, these creepy but also vital stories create, decreate, and recreate the skins we live in: language and the body. Breathtakingly.”
—LIDIA YUKNAVITCH, author of The Small Backs of Children and The Chronology of Water: A Memoir
“Courtney Morgan’s dark and surprising stories turn sharp corners. You read and discover that the passage between life and death is the threshold you already crossed. Morgan is a writer whose sentences produce what they describe: the disorderly sensation of a threatening desire.”
—JOANNA RUOCCO, author of Dan, Another Governess/The Least Blacksmith, and A Compendium of Domestic Incidents
“The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman is disarming and smart and spooky. I’ve never read anything quite like it.”
—NOY HOLLAND, author of Bird and Swim for the Little One First
"Morgan takes a radical approach to the linked-story collection in her first book, shaping a young woman's life in tales that range from naturalistic to wildly speculative fiction.
Different though they are, these stories all offer perspectives on the title character—or, at least, some version of her. This isn’t the kind of conventional collection in which glimpses of a character at different points of her life are arranged in chronological order. Nora doesn’t have just one life but multiple existences in alternate realities. The book opens with a virtuoso tale in which one of the Noras, murdered when she is 28, reflects in lyrical prose on key moments in her life as another, matter-of-fact voice recites the details of her autopsy. One Nora falls victim to a drug-addled trucker while hitchhiking, and another gives birth first to a baby made of “newsprint and twine” and then to one that is simply a “ball of fur.” Many of the Noras are young, pre-pubescent or adolescent, just discovering their own bodies or those of others. Sex, often linked with violence, is a constant in the stories, like the one in which the young Nora and a friend explore each other so thoroughly that one of them is completely devoured, or the one in which an older Nora forms an uneasy connection with a sex robot she names Noreen. The stories, often experimental, share in common not so much their plots or structures but recurring motifs: the transformation of humans into birds, an angry mother dying of cancer, the messy details of bodily existence. Often, the stories have more than one teller, inviting the reader to hold two separate perspectives on a series of events simultaneously.
Morgan’s stories may not be for the squeamish or the easily baffled, but open-minded readers ready for a challenge will delight in discovering the many sides of her mysterious heroine."
Published in American Book Review, Volume 38, No. 5
by Aimee Parkison
Courtney E. Morgan’s vivid debut is not for the faint of heart or any reader in need of trigger warnings. The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman opens with a nightmarish backdrop by examining the aftermath of violence against a woman. However, the reader soon discovers dissection is subversion, allowing the victim to metaphorically come alive, transforming and finding a voice. The corpse provides a fractured narrative account for any reader willing to look closely at Nora’s remains on a medical journey of examining a woman’s body in pieces.
Turning the idea of the formulaic mystery story on its head, the collection begins with the startling “Autopsy” with categories such as “Cause of Death,” “Manner of Death,” “Diagnosis,” and “Anatomic Findings.” The victim’s body becomes the subject of a cold examination while details of her life are woven into the findings, creating a deeper mystery of character. The story focuses on the entropy of decay as the reader struggles to find deeper meaning in the senselessness of violence, a woman reduced to a body. Despite the hard-hitting anatomical details of autopsy, the prose opens a subtle implied narrative in a victim’s ability to live on because the body tells a story through evidence. The reader feels the loss of an individual life, even as the body is coldly examined internally and externally, taken apart in a scientific examination reducing the victim to a urinary tract, reproductive organs, central nervous system, and a gastrointestinal system.
There is nothing escapist about this view of violence where the body is the explicit factor unfolding questions of the self, the deepest mystery. Graphic details build fractured fictions that shock and awaken the reader with exquisite syntax, shattered lines on shattered lives, and vivid imagery.
Given the gory, yet coldly scientific approach of rendering a protagonist as anatomical evidence, the voice of the collection is an accomplishment of situational irony, bringing unexpected beauty to horror. Gorgeous language breaks through violence. The opening story and the collection’s title create compelling subtext for all that comes after, poetry born from bones breaking open.
The Haunting Resonance of "The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman"
Published on Fiction Unbound
by Sean Cassity
The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman is the first book to truly enrapture me in a very long time. It is a collection of stories in which the culminating effect of the collection overwhelms the intrigues of the individual stories. Well before the book’s quiet denouement, the varied tragedies of Nora Hanneman had already left me haunted.
The opening story, “Autopsy,” prepares us for tragedy, but not knowing the rest of what we are about to read, we might expect the tragedy to be much more conventional. In the structure of an autopsy report we get glimpsed access to the arrested life of the first Nora Hanneman, a young woman of 28 found strangled in a basement. Of course, the interrupted vitality of youth, the dashed potential of so much more life is intrinsically tragic. But as we read on, the heartbreak comes from living Nora’s lives, experiencing her frustrated desires, her unmade connections, all the little tortures that hollow out a cavity in her she longs to fill.
I call the Nora of “Autopsy” the first Nora Hanneman because while all but a few of the stories feature a protagonist named Nora, you would not be able to fit all of these Noras into a single timeline. You can, however, fit them into a single psychology, into a single world where the surreal often erupts to fulfill inexpressible desires, such as that feeling of wanting to be one with another so much you wish you could swallow them whole.
This singular Nora within the several Noras is desperate for change. The stories are thick with images of metamorphosis, of emerging from a chrysalis, breaking from an exoskeleton, or, especially, the shedding of skin. Nora’s world, however, is very pessimistic toward change. Every metamorphosis is a failed metamorphosis. There is always something rotten or misshapen in these forced transformations. Nothing emerges whole.
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