Reading Matters

Kelly Cherry infuses humor in story of gay marriage

“God never meant for gays and lesbians to have sex with each,” says a gay man to a woman who thinks “maybe she never gave hetero sex a fair try.” These characters, “taking nervous peeks at each other’s pale body,” open one of Kelly Cherry’s short stories in her engaging tenth collection, “Twelve Women in a Country Called America” (Press 53, $19.95 paper).

Not that the gay-lesbian territory is uncharted in fiction, but leave it to Cherry to infuse humor and, in this case, Greek mythology, into an entertaining and enlightening tale.

The story is about France and Philomena, two women hitting 50, married to each other. Philomena owns a flower nursery, and France teaches literature at Waverly, a private girls’ school in the South.

Kelly, a former poet laureate of Virginia, draws a vivid picture of France’s parents, who like to “brag about their daughter the lesbian.”

“... it made them feel a little breathless, as if they were breaking the rules, coloring outside the lines. Her parents’ faces shone with the effort and excitement of being unconventional, even risking ostracism. ...They had a brave, brilliant, path-breaking daughter and her specialness reflected on them, because it was they who had taught her to be true to herself and honest with others.”

Of course there are complications in the marriage. What’s a story without them?

France falls into the doldrums. “Nothing excited her anymore; nothing pulled her away from herself. Was nothing ever to change, to surprise her again?”

Well, we shall see, said the blind man.

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