A quick glance at the cover – Dutch master Cornelis de Heem's A Garland of Fruit – and you know this book is going to be about sex. The fruit, resplendent in all its connotations, is lush, glistening, enticing. The garland a gift with a blue silk bow. Look only a tiny bit closer though, and you'll see the fruit that's on the turn. Here in one painting: freshness, decay; the ripe and the rotten.
More than sex, this is a tale of desire. More precisely: three women's tales of desire. Literary non-fiction eight years in the making, writer Lisa Taddeo immersed herself in the lives of Maggie, Lina and Sloane. Countless conversations, emails, text messages and court transcripts, even moves to live in the towns of two of the women. All the better to understand the reality of their lives. Bookended by the pro and epilogue, in which Taddeo speaks candidly about her mother, the book is less a treatise, and more a dipping into the depth and nuance of human – nay – women's want.
For as many as have loved this book, there are just as many who felt the opposite. Even reviled it: found it too narrow, too white, too heteronormative, too extreme. And those criticisms are valid. But by deciding to read it as it seems Taddeo intended: peering into the lit windows of these morally and emotionally complicated stories – an examination of instances in three ordinary lives – the hope is that we start to get a better read on our own. To understand a little more of our specific, shapeshifting, sometimes irrepressible hungers. Intimate, bleak, sexy, gutting – infinitely compelling – those who hailed it as a literary event, weren't wrong. This feels important, even if you can see the holes.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
There's one film that can't be ignored while exploring our theme of the month. Beloved by so many since its release in 2017, much has been said about Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name. It's truly a good'un. Today though, let's focus on the ripe fruit: one of its implicit and explicit (!) recurring motifs.
First off, there's the wonderfully saturated images - lush greens, lemon yellows, cherry reds and muted oranges. The cinematography is vivid, while retaining the soft fuzziness of one of Elio's iconic tees. There's Oliver expounding on the etymology of the word apricot, while the not-unkind, wry smiles passing between Elio and his mother reveal that they are all – Elio included – more than a match for this arrestingly confident American. Copious fresh apricot juice being consumed at the same time, insatiable youthful appetites and all that.
Breezing past the incredible orchards, and the mildly tense fruit picking scenes, we get to THE peach scene. If you haven't watched it already, let's just describe it as an unconventional act of self-love. Far from crude or low-brow, it marks a pivotal point. Love, lust and longing have all culminated in Elio and Oliver's first night together but the next day, Elio, unsettled, bored and frankly, now even more turned on, has had his moment with the peach. After gingerly placing it on the nightstand, and wiping the juice from his fingers, he rolls over and falls asleep. Oliver comes to find Elio and realising what he's done, starts to tease him, picking up the peach and going to take a bite. Alarmingly, Elio breaks down. Without hesitation Oliver takes him in his arms. Elio – overwhelmed by all that has happened, by his imminent loss, by the revelation of new urges – is met by someone who understands. This is the start of their love story. Not ready to read all that into it? Guadagnino says: 'For me, it was about the peach. Literally. It was about the sensuality of what he wanted to process in his mind with the fruit. So, I focused on the taking of the peach as the real erotic moment.' Whichever way, it works.
Whether reading on a park bench because spring is in the air, or snuggled on the sofa as snow falls outside killing the first dafs - here's two fruit-featuring poems that we love:
What happened, happened once. So now it's best
in memory – an orange he sliced: the skin
unbroken, then the knife, the chilled wedge
lifted to my mouth, his mouth, the thin
membrane between us, the exquisite orange,
tongue, orange, my nakedness and his,
the way he pushed me up against the fridge -
Now I get to feel his hands again, the kiss
that didn't last, but sent some neural twin
flashing wildly through the cortex. Love's
merciless, the way it travels in
and keeps emitting light. Beside the stove
we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers
on the table. And we still had hours.
- Kim Addonizio
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
saving for breakfast
they were delicious
and so cold
- William Carlos Williams