Sexing the Cherry
is a work of post-modern fiction
by British author Jeanette Winterson
first published in 1989
. Like much pomo
fiction, there are multiple narrators; chief among these are Dog Woman
, a woman of gigantic, but loosely-defined stature (like Paul Bunyan
, who was "10 feet tall," and whose axe "carved the Grand Canyon
"), and the boy she finds on the banks of a river, Jordan
The book is set in two time periods, first in mid-17th century, and second, in the near-future, 1990 (remember, the book was published in 1989). The nature of time is central to the novel. Like much of post-modern writing, Sexing the Cherry is critical of time and many other modernist absolutes. The book opens:
The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present and future. The division does not exist. What does this say about time?
Matter, that thing most solid and the well-known, which you are holding in your hands and which makes up your body, is now known to be mostly empty space. Empty space and points of light. What does this say about the reality of the world?
A reoccurring theme throughout the novel is the importance of the space between defined, known things. More than just a reiteration of "read between the lines," Winterson explicitly talks about the nature of "exploration" in this context, and implicitly examines gender, human relationships, and, of course, time.
Assisting the reader in keeping track of which character is speaking (this isn't Illuminatus!, after all) are little pictures in the white space between sections. 17th century Dog Woman is represented by a banana, while Jordan is represented by a pineapple, while their future selves are represented by sliced versions of their respective fruit.
Sexing the Cherry also picks up the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses after "happily ever after." Post-modernism shows its influence here by letting each of the twelve princesses tell her own story of what happened after they were married off. I've heard some people claim that this section is supposed to combat the notion of the fairy tale happy ending, but I read it as combating the notion of endings in general.
The attitudes of late 80's/early 90's feminism and ecology pop up throughout the book. Winterson is, after all, a liberal feminist lesbian living in the late 80's. Aside from Jordan, and maybe two others, the men in Sexing the Cherry are stupid, cruel, hypocritical or worse. Women, while not maligned as blatantly, tend to be manipulative: allowing men to believe they are in control because they seem to enjoy the idea. They are either apathetic or overjoyed when their men meet premature ends.
Although I may not have explained it as such, Sexing the Cherry is also a funny book. Funny heh-heh, and sometimes even funny ha-ha.
And the title does mean something, but you'll just have to read the book for yourself to find out what.