Despite the title, Women by Chloe Caldwell (Short Flight/Long Distance Books, 2014) is not just for women. It’s for anyone who likes reading fiction but also has a problem with reading fiction. It’s also for feminists who want to read a book with predominantly female characters. It’s also for anyone who’s bisexual and/or ever questioned their sexuality. It’s also for all the above and none of the above.
“You have to read this book. It’s stayed with me for months,” I say to a friend over dinner.
“What’s it about?” my friend asks.
“It’s about…” I begin to say, even though I don’t like answering what things are about, even though I often ask others what things are about, “the difficulty of writing about experience in the same way that holding onto love is seemingly impossible.”
“I am trying to decide what you need to know about Finn [the narrator’s love interest] before we start. I don’t know if I will be able to get you to see her the way I saw her. I worry that if I cannot make you fall in love with her inexplicably, inexorably, and immediately, the way I did, then you will not be experiencing this book in the way I hope you will… But it is now occurring to me that by offering you these details about Finn [her favorite book of poetry, how she liked her hamburgers cooked, or the words tattooed across her knuckles], I could ruin things for you… Depending on what I tell you, I could lose you.” (p. 6)
“I actually don’t care about Finn,” I say to my friend whom I’m no longer having dinner with. “I end up falling for the narrator and her perception of Finn vs. Finn herself as a character, who, actually, is kind of an immature asshole… This book,” I press my pointed index fingers close together, “is almost about the tangentiality of love–how even in love we can’t truly inhabit another person’s consciousness, no matter how much we want to, in the same way writing about such experiences, or just writing about experience in general, is an impossibility, no matter how hard we may try.”
“There’s a quote, I forget who said it: As soon as you write something down, it’s fiction.” (p. 68)
“This book also stayed with me because I was going through a similar coming out process as the narrator,” I say to my friend who has now become completely fictional. “As I was reading/thinking about this book, I, just like the narrator, had sex with a woman for the first time ever, even though I, just like the narrator, had a history of only being with men up to that point.”
“Emboldened by the beers, after an hour or so, I told Finn that I did not understand how lesbians had sex. Dildo? I asked. Vibrator? Fingering? Humping? She shrugged, clearly amused. It’s different for everyone, she said. It’s different every time.” (p. 14)
The (charmingly funny) narrator thinks she knows herself and her sexuality when she meets Finn. But this sense of security in her sexuality gets blurred as she flirts with Finn more and more. One evening, a mutual friend watches them and tells them to just have sex.
“How does one have sex with a woman?” the narrator asks herself. “Besides I’m straight. But I do take Finn’s hand.” (p. 21)
“Am I a lesbian?” I say after I lose feeling in my face and hands from having my first orgasm ever with a woman.
“No,” the woman I just had sex with says, laughing. “You’re married to a man.”*
“Yes, of course,” I say, unsure.
“So it wasn’t until I met Finn that I found myself floundering, questioning my sexuality, grasping for an answer. In therapy, I was noticing my tendency to view things in such black and white colors. And here it was coming up again, with regard to my sexuality. I did not know if I was gay or straight. This or that… Finn and I talked about this. I’d often state that writer’s block did not exist. Like bisexuality, she’d say. Just kidding” (p. 41).
I don’t want to go into detail about Finn and the narrator’s relationship, as it would take me too long and also, it may ruin the process of reading the book for you. But I can say that this book is more than what I told you it’s about. It’s not clear. And that’s okay.
*Dear Reader: In case you think I’m a cheater, I just want you to know, not that it’s any of your business, that I got the full approval from my husband to engage in such acts.