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LaurenBDavis

LAUREN B. DAVIS

Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson I read this book when it first came out, and am reading it again in preparation for a review I'll be doing shortly for Truthdig.com of her new book, "Why be happy when you could be normal?" -- which is, I am told, autobiographical. Reading it for a second time held just as many pleasures as the first reading did, perhaps more. This book is a corker, as my old Nan used to say. The coming-of-age story of Jeanette, our first-person narrator, a British girl adopted by particularly fundamentalist Pentecostal parent, in Lancaster. Although we are told this is a fiction, and not a straight autobiography (see above), since we do know that Winterson herself was adopted by just such parents as these, and that her lesbianism was in harsh conflict with the beliefs of her adopted parents, as is the lesbianism of Jeanette, the book's narrator, there is a sense of wonderful irony in the work. It doesn't hurt that there is so much bitter humor in the book, and I kept imagining the narrator reading with Maggie Smith's delightfully arch delivery.The narrator's mother is a dictator of the highest order who defers to her particular interpretation of the Bible as the penultimate authority. It is the hulking shape which overshadows Jeannette's childhood, and yet it is also the book after which Winterson models the novel. The first eight books of the Bible, from Genesis to Ruth, are the titles of the novel's eight sections and passages and guide the reader just as the work guides the narrator's day to day life. She is, after all, being trained as a preacher. Things go terribly wrong, of course, when the narrator falls in love with another girl, as you can imagine.But the book is not simply about family and sexual conflict, it is also about the power of story itself -- Biblical and otherwise -- and thus the narrator is set on a mythic journey in which she questions the "truth" of any story. All stories are are, she tells us, made up, perhaps even the one that tells us the world is composed of such binary opposites as male and female. Wintersen juxtaposes myth and legend with the personal story and the Biblical one. This is about the act of storytelling -- a meta-fiction, which is a theme Wintersen returns to in her work time and again. She is concerned with gender polarities, certainly, and the question of sexual identity, but also with the liminal spaces where the material world and that of the imagination meet. The fact that she investigates these spaces with such wry humor and such beautiful prose is a great treat for the reader. And now I am on to "Sexing the Cherry."