Amora: Stories (2020, tr. Julia Sanches. Original: Amora, 2015) begins with ‘First Times’ and ends with ‘Profanation’ – and, for that alone, I knew this collection would be some sort of forbidden fruit worth biting.
The book comprises thirty-three snapshots of lesbian lives, split into two sections: “Big & Juicy”, which includes twenty-two longer, character-driven stories; and “Short & Tart”, which include eleven impressionistic, confessional, imagery-driven prose poems.
Your lesbians are girls coming of age, friends gossiping, women making out or breaking up, teenagers having sex in the back of a car, college students misunderstanding each other, women writing (or hiding behind) long pointless email messages, girls trying to figure out how they feel about themselves, young women falling down stairs in front of an ex, or battling depression, women feeling awkward or lonely or both, children growing up, elderly ladies growing old together.
We have a closeted woman who is afraid to introduce her co-workers to her girlfriend (‘My Cousin’s in Town’), a girl who is bullied and called “a gross lesbian” by one of her classmates (‘Thick Legs’), a lesbian who is gossiped about and shunned in the neighbourhood (‘Flor’), and a married woman who must come to a breaking point to be able to confront her husband about her affair with a younger woman (‘Como Te Extraño, Clara’).
In ‘Marília Wakes Up’, we follow an elderly lesbian couple as they try to go about their routine – and their love feels like a frail balance exercise increasingly threated by their failing health, the fear of death, and the loneliness born of that fear. It’s a very delicate, melancholy story that feels like watching a lengthy farewell scene in slow motion, even before the characters themselves are fully aware that it is happening. Almost as a flipside to this story, ‘Aunties’ centres on a pair of elderly would-be nuns leading a life together, travelling the globe, and getting married.
Your writing takes a stroll through many genres and doesn’t stop for too long at any of them. I love the surreal strangeness of ‘Renfield’s Demons’, where the protagonist swings in and out of some sort of medication-induced delirium, as if letting her demons out after having found her girlfriend with another woman. I also love the nuanced violence in ‘Bite Your Tongue’, where a woman bites her tongue while on a dinner with her wife, which sends her into a spiralling inner confrontation with her own infidelity – leaving “her tongue swimming in saliva and blood” along with a stain in the restaurant’s tablecloth: “Before checking her tongue, she bared her teeth, like a person studying their ferocity. She wanted to leave—not just the restaurant but her unhappiness. There. It wasn’t just Manuela but everything that held her back: forced happiness, plans, the desire for children. None of it appealed to her. She wanted to run in the opposite direction, to flee, to cower, but without losing her stable, monotonous, happy life in exchange. She opened her mouth again, still brimming with blood”.
My two favourite stories were ‘Grandma, Are You a Lesbian?’, where the eponymous Grandma comes out during a family dinner, while the narrator, one of her grandchildren, still hides a lesbian story of her own; and ‘God Deliver Me’, centred on a Christian woman who preaches to her congregation about how she found salvation through the love of a woman. I loved the way these stories play with voice and form, their sharp sense of humour, and the way they poke at and turn a mirror to homophobia, then watch it crash.
For too long, lesbians have been ghosted out of literature or turned into tortured characters drained of all vitality and doomed to either be tamed or die in the end. It is refreshing to find in Amora a book entirely inhabited by women loving women and moving beyond love, living beyond their ghostlike counterparts on the page.
The title Amora, which literally means blackberry, refers to a character in one of the stories, but also carries a pun: in Portuguese, the word amor is a masculine noun that means love; by adding an ‘a’ at the end of amor, it sounds as if you had turned it into a feminine noun. Love by women, womanly love, loving women – a fruit worth biting.
“I swallow. I feel like I’m articulating the words in reverse. They turn from words back into unformed thoughts. My chest itches on the inside, maybe this is what they were before they became jagged thoughts: an itch in my chest.” – Natalia Borges Bolesso, Amora: Stories, tr. Julia Sanches
“I’m writing because I still love you. With no expectations for a response. This is a desire. Not a cry for help, not my soul reaching out, none of that. Just a desire, begun.” – Natalia Borges Bolesso, Amora: Stories, tr. Julia Sanches