"Brutalities is electric with insight, riveted by its commitments—to love and bewilderment, to bearing witness—and utterly propulsive." —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
A searing, vivid memoir that investigates the dynamics of violence, power, desire, and a body pushed to the brink.
Quarantined in a southwestern desert city in the midst of her high-risk pregnancy, Margo Steines felt her life narrow around her growing body, compelling her to reckon with the violence entangled in its history. She was a professional dominatrix in New York City, a homestead farmer in a brutal relationship, a welder on a high-rise building crew, and a mixed martial arts enthusiast; each of her many lives brought a new perspective on how power and masculinity coalesce—and how far she could push her body toward the brink. With unflinching candor, Steines searches for the roots of her erstwhile attraction to pain while charting the complicated triumph of gentleness and love.
About the Author
Margo Steines holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona, where she teaches writing. Her work has appeared in the New York Times (Modern Love), the Sun, and elsewhere. A native New Yorker, she lives in Tucson, Arizona.
Steines manages to keep her reader close, writing with a rare crystalline precision as she explores her fixation with violence and with certain forms of traditional masculinity... What elevates Steines’s book above the difficult, often extreme experiences she shares is her willingness to look honestly and objectively at her desires.
— Casey Schwartz - New York Times Book Review
There are many profound takeaways from this memoir... It's one hell of a read, and well worth every page.
— Robyn Smith - Bust
From being a dominatrix to a welder, Steines meticulously describes the emotional toll of these jobs, deftly leading readers through several different stages of her life and how they all have informed her relationship with her body. Ultimately, those who pick up the book will be prompted to contemplate their body in a way they may never have thought of before.
— Katie Tamola - Shondaland
Unforgettable... Brutalities is alive with candor and care in its attention toward the body and the pressures the world places upon it.
— Michael Welch - Chicago Review of Books
Steines tackles complex, nuanced truths about power and violence through clear writing and an unflinching gaze... [A] propulsive debut... The author’s skillful prose expresses pain clearly...but this discomfort is tempered by her clearheaded insights and retroactive self-empathy.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Brutalities is electric with insight, riveted by its commitments—to love and bewilderment, to bearing witness—and utterly propulsive in its explorations of compulsion, tenderness, caregiving, and desire. Margo Steines sees the world fiercely and freshly, with a rapt and nuanced gaze utterly her own. Imagine journeying to the center of the earth, except the earth is a human body—full of wanting and haunting—and the journey is just harrowing and glorious enough to do justice to the work and wonder of being alive.
— Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams and Make It Scream, Make It Burn
Brutalities is a perfect book. Reading it felt like consuming something designed precisely for me and of course, I won't be alone in this—that is the genius of great works of art: they reach our deepest interiors by naming the unspoken ordinary, the things we fear seeing or being seen as. There is nothing ordinary about this book, however. It is a brainy, elegant, erotic, brutal, funny, hypnotic achievement by an author obsessed with the far reaches of what it means to live in a body, and how some kinds of love look like violence while others can be medicine. It has made a devotee of me; I'll read anything Margo Steines ever writes.
— Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood and Body Work
This book circles around the simple fact that each of us is capable of change. It does not matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us, change is always possible. Margo Steines, through what some might call grace, has emerged from a (perhaps) chosen darkness, to focus all her wild energies into these pages. To get here she had to descend into realms you might find disturbing, but trust that if you descend with her (the trip is exhilarating) you too will emerge, also changed. This book is an amazing feat, Steines has crafted something truly lovely, and it’s her writing that makes it sing.
— Nick Flynn, author of This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire
Margo Steines is a radical writer and also a slyly hilarious one. She goes places most of us dare not go and comes back with surprising truths that tell us as much about us as they do about her. This is the trick of great self-writing, to understand just how capacious the self can be and how porous with the wildnesses of the world. Steines's writing is alive, weird, dark, and electric.
— Ander Monson, author of Predator: A Memoir, a Movie, an Obsession
Wide-ranging… This unsparing and open tour of [Steines’s] many compulsions and incarnations—sex worker, farmer, welder—contrasts sharply with the author’s more recent experience of being pregnant during the pandemic lockdown.