The idea of a short story collection entirely consumed by the topic of women loving women shouldn’t feel groundbreaking, but when I heard about Natalia Borges Polesso’s Amora, (translated by Julia Sanches) I gasped. I’m going to admit that I regularly type the names of book titles, movies, authors, celebrities, etc. into Internet search bars and add the word “gay” to the end like it’s some kind of last name. I don’t think I’m alone in this practice. It’s a form of bluntness real life rarely allows. It’s a desire to tease more queerness out of culture, to see my sexuality represented even if it isn’t obvious. Willa Cather wrote roving novels about women and men falling in love, but Wikipedia allowed me to see something more than heterosexual romance. Maybe Charles Swann isn’t gay, but Google made him so.
Still it can be disheartening to have to go outside the page to find the story you most want to hear. And reading Amora made me aware of just how much gets missed in abstraction. Where have the stories of elderly queer women been? Where are the stories of lesbian blood play, of girl crushes, and one night stands, of dyke pastors, and vapid queer gossip? That’s why Borges Polesso made me gasp. It’s all there in Amora. All of it.
Each story is a new shape. In each of the thirty-three stories (yes truly. Every single one of them!) a woman confronts her feelings for another woman. Sometimes, like in “Dreaming,” the Sapphic desire is the crux on which everything is built. Other times, like in “Bite Your Tongue,” it’s just a fact vaguely audible to the larger plot. But it’s always there. Even if it’s lurking in the background. And sometimes that’s what feels the most ground breaking. A story can be queer, even if the point of it isn’t queerness.
A few of the scenarios I particularly appreciated from Amora were in stories like “Marilia Wakes Up” in which an elderly lesbian couple goes about their Sunday morning ritual, simultaneously tragic in their continued closetedness and touching in their enduring compassion for one another. “Grandma, Are You a Lesbian” has to be one of the best short story titles I’ve ever come across. And, “Aunties” breathes reality into that fantasy of two queer nuns leading a life together. But, don’t get me wrong. Of course Borges Polesso can’t cover every type of lesbian story. There’s still room for so many more stories to be told, so many more perspectives. In a way, the ground she covers in just 223 pages is simply opening the door for more.
Perhaps because so many different types of lesbians are touched upon in this collection, there’s a certain brevity that laces its way through this book. Many stories seemed to end just as they’d begun. In “My Cousin’s In Town” a woman who isn’t out at work invites her colleagues over for dinner when her girlfriend is out of town. As she enters her apartment with the group though, she realizes her girlfriend, Bruna, has returned from her conference earlier than expected and proceeds to introduce her workmates to her “cousin” who is in town for an exam. The story ends shortly after this introduction. The dinner with colleagues lasts only half a paragraph, and everything comes to an end with Bruna chiding her lover, saying “the truth would have been painless” and then questioning this sentiment. As a reader this was jarring because I expected the story to explore this desire to hide, to unpack what it does to the relationship, but all that unpacking happens in no more than three final sentences.
One happy result of all these jolted endings is that the stories feel very much alive. We sense that the characters still have work to do, like they go on living even if it isn’t on the page. For this reason, I have some respect for Borges Polesso refusing to tie each story into a bow. She puts some of the labor onto her readers. There’s so much unpacking left to be done for queer narratives. The answers aren’t obvious, nor should they be.
By Natalia Borges Polesso (Translated by Julia Sanches)
Paperback, 9781542004336, 232 pp.