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***This is a Great Fiction Countdown 2015 post. I’ll be reading and responding to a new short story published or reprinted in 2015 every day throughout the month of December. If you have a recommendation, tweet at me or use the contact form.***
Story Three: “Something Not Unlike Love” by Dorothy Allison
Originally published in Tin House Issue 66
Read it for free here.
A story about a woman recounting five of the great love affairs of her life. It’s interesting how well this story works with a mostly passive and static narrator. At moments I felt like I was reading Gatsby, the way the narrator observes and retells more interesting events involving other characters. Unlike poor Nick Carroway, however, this narrator’s inner life is essential to the narrative.
I read this story as an examination of love and sex through the lens of these five relationships. How the two concepts are related. How they feed off each other, contradict one another and–in many instances–diverge. Each relationship related presents the reader with a new balance between the two. Anna and the narrator never even engage in any kind of physical intimacy, but the love between them is arguably the strongest. Judine presents the inverse–mind blowing sex, but a totally mundane romantic life.
Allison describes Judine in biblical simile: “Judine was like an Old Testament heathen prophet, but damn astonishing in bed! Every time, without exception, the best damn sex of my life. Bitch knew what she was doing.”
In fact, there are a lot of fresh descriptions of each of these women, particularly as they relate to their romantic or sexual chemistry with the narrator. “She did not ask for much, only what I had.” In other words, she asked for everything. Recounting yet another lover, “Twenty-seven years later, she can…look at me across the room, smile, and mouth the words ‘baby’ girl,’ and there is in my mouth the sudden taste of Jack Daniels and sweat.” Although the taste of Jack Daniels and sweat is not independently evocative of anything particularly erotic, in the context of this piece it’s clear that the narrator might as well be describing her own dripping sex.
I found this piece an interesting meditation on love and sex, told from the perspective of a woman who struggled to find the right combination of the two through a heartbreaking process of trial and error.