Fiction by Kelly Cherry

We Can Still Be Friends

[A] rich, wise, and gently humorous group portrait of adults looking to connect with someone or something beyond themselves.

Ava, a professor of Women’s Studies in Chicago, on sabbatical in Memphis, is informed by Tony, the stern, controlled heart surgeon whose child she recently miscarried, that he’s in love with Claire, a professor of Art History in L.A. married to generous, devoted Boyd, a successful and long-sober movie producer. Ava, smart, vulnerable, but strong in her own way and not completely stable—Tony, we later learn, met her in the locked ward of his hospital—feels cheated of both a man and the child she was meant to have, and seeks a crazy, logical, justice: while vain, imperious Claire is in Chicago conducting her affair with Tony, Ava flies to L.A., seeks out Boyd, and requests impregnation. Boyd, much better than Ava at suppressing an equally complex inner life, fears losing Claire, who has broken their long-standing unspoken agreement by letting her affair with Tony grow serious. Looking for a way to transcend himself, swayed by the momentousness of creating a life—something Claire can’t do—Boyd capitulates. There’s a lot going on here: Cherry has smart things to say about academia, race, men, women, and identity, and give her compellingly entertaining prose—she’s controlled enough so that she’s free to loosen up and play—this could have been a diverting, middle-brow soap just serious enough that readers could pat themselves on the back for enjoying it. But, told in passages that inhabit each of the four main characters’ perspectives in turn, sometimes retelling the same scene from each view, it becomes a moving exploration of isolation and connection propelled by plot to a surprising, inevitable, and emotionally resonant epiphany that answers to both character and circumstance.

“A surprising and rewarding mix of technique, ideas and insight.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Kelly Cherry is a wonder. It’s hard to think of anyone as masterful as Kelly Cherry in four distinct forms—the novel, the short story, the poem, and the essay. Or as masterful in laying bare the impassioned—even desperate—heart of modern relationships. We Can Still Be Friends is Cherry at her best, which is to say it is a brilliant novel both furious and funny.”
–Robert Olen Butler

“Everything Kelly Cherry turns her talent to, shines with her particular moral and passionate attention, her ability to make felt life out of the fabric of words, as only the best artists can….We Can Still Be Friends is a prime example of all her best virtues. This is a love story for adults, with brains and heart. Don’t miss it.”
–Richard Bausch


The Society of Friends

Shelley, a nurse who discovers that her daughter is gay (“Not the Phil Donohue Show”), is steadfastly if wryly determined to make the best of her confusing late-20th-century existence. The collection’s central figure and protagonist of six of these stories, writer and professor Nina Bryant, lives with her adopted daughter Tavy and her adorable dog Oscar. Coping with the death of both parents (not to mention her father’s return from the grave in “As It Is in Heaven”), and her memories of her abuse as a child, she finally finds a man she can count on in “Love in the Middle Ages.” Nina’s neighbors include Guy, a struggling bookstore owner who worries that his wife will leave him for her lesbian best friend (“Tell Her”); Conrad, whose wife and son died suddenly and who has retreated into a world of household duties (“Chores”); Larry, who faces a divorce (“How It Goes”); and a performance artist named Jazz who struggles to maintain a relationship with her overbearing mother (“Lunachick”).


My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers (Deep South Books)

“Prose of outstanding lyrical strength. . .idiosyncratic and fresh.”
New York Times Book Review

“Deeply affecting. . . .Cherry’s book begins as light as Ephron’s Heartburn and makes a quantum leap along the way into a kind of prayer.”

“Not since Edna O’Brien has a writer taught me so much about the lot of a middle-aged woman waiting for love. It is a rich family story too, and it is affirmative, heartbreaking, funny, and beautiful.”
–Andre Dubus, author of The Last Worthless Evening

“This fine novel is a witty and moving account of what it’s like to be a woman in America today, when the promise to ‘have it all’ has become a demand. Nina’s journey from self-accusation and passive acceptance of the judgment of public and private ‘experts’ to joy and freedom of choice is exhilarating.”
–Alison Lurie, author of Foreign Affairs


The Lost Traveller’s Dream



In The Wink Of An Eye (Voices of the South)

In the Bolivian backcountry, a band of inept guerrillas begins a revolution that unexpectedly snowballs into a wildcat worldwide movement. First, a shady German industrialist, with an obsession for big deals and big women, devises a scheme to expand the revolt into all of South America. Then the president of the United States embraces the overthrow as part of a vast Western Hemisphere plan. When irate citizens in Tulsa, New York, and London get involved, along with the queen mother and the pope, the insurrection takes on global—and even cosmic—dimensions. First published in 1983, Kelly Cherry’s political cartoon of a novel offers a captivating cast of characters whose zany doings make an important point about the indomitable power of the human spirit to dream a better future.


Augusta Played: A Novel (Voices of the South)

Augusta, is an elegant young flutist preparing for her debut at Town Hall. In this splendid comedy, she is joined by a cast of wonderfully absurd characters–her husband, his father, her ex-lover, a nightclub stripper, a peeping Tom, and a canary. Within the scope of these characters, the author reflects on love, marriage, family, art, and captures the way men and women relate–or fail to relate–to one another.


Sick & Full of Burning

Is there any hope for a hypereducated thirty-year-old med student who would like nothing better than to be taken seriously sexually? That’s what Mary “Tennessee” Settleworth, the dislocated heroine of this unsettling and wryly comic first novel, is wondering.

Tennessee, a native of Knoxville, is an all-around heretic: a Southerner who’s happier up North; a Christian who favors Pelagius and free will over Augustine and original sin; a woman who chooses to specialize in gynecology, a field reserved, it seems, for men; a lady of urgent passions who has had no carnal engagements for a year. She has finally gone so far as to write a reply to Mailer’s Prisoner of Sex for a men’s magazine, an article entitled “Sexual Inmates: A Cellular Study.” Before it is published, however, she enters the employ and the household of one Lulu Cameron Carlisle(a whining and possessive but philanthropic Park Avenue widow who has a fine suicidal flair for pot, heavy ranquilizers, and smoking in bed(and her lame fourteen-year-old daughter, who needs a governess. All three women are badly in need of a compassionate friend(preferably and male(who is willing and most of all able to soothe both spirit and flesh.

Enter Adrien, the good man who’s hard to find in Tennessee’s life, a poet of angelic presence who courts her chastely. Is he a lifeline out of this doomed world of women, or Tennessee’s supreme temptation? If saving Lulu from herself means losing Adrien, Tennessee has a martyr’s crown cut out for her, until she realizes that martyrs and fools share a close family resemblance and that her vigil over Lulu is more prideful than responsible.




Poetry by Kelly Cherry

The Retreats of Thought: Poems

In this book-length sonnet sequence, Kelly Cherry explores the philosophical domain, addressing classic questions, raising new ones, and sometimes doing philosophy in fourteen lines. A former philosophy student in graduate school, she retains a deep love of philosophical inquiry and maintains that our lives are intimately bound to the philosophical choices we make. Conscious study of our choices, Cherry believes, can lead to greater freedom. Passionate, skeptical, witty, and sometimes wry, these succinct poems concern themselves with very large matters–the nature of time, the definitions of goodness and beauty, the aims of art, our limited knowledge of the world–and illustrate with aching clarity that philosophical problems dominate our lives as does the sky.


Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems

Lyrical beauty and power, imposing metaphor, and thought both deep and precise are hallmarks of Kelly Cherry’s poetry, on view in Hazard and Prospect: New and Selected Poems. With a dazzling mastery and range of tone, technique, form, and ideas, Cherry presents a lifetime of powerful writing that coheres into a single, seemless work. In it she responds to the natural world, to philosophical dilemmas, to spiritual longing, to political, ethical, and aesthetic questions, and, most powerfully, to love and loss. She shows us in sometimes searing poems where the hazards lie, and in transcendent verse a new, bright prospect, a “green place” on a farm in Virginia where time slows and holds and happiness abides.


Rising Venus: Poems

Cherry, an accomplished poet, fiction writer, memoirist, and essayist, draws readers deep into women’s territory in her beautifully choreographed sixth collection. Writing from a woman’s point of view in poems that are sometimes larky, always precise and stealthily powerful, she articulates various stages of a woman’s coping with lost love, moving sure-footedly from witticisms to a joltingly candid depiction of depression and madness. Initially skeletal in form, her poems fill out and gain muscle, weight, and authority as heartache gives way to a renewed passion for life and faith in art. Here Venus rises not dewy and innocent but knowing, “strong and free,” a triumphant vision of femaleness that Cherry bestows as a benediction in the glorious closing poem, “To a Young Woman.” —Donna Seaman


Death and Transfiguration: Poems

In her latest, deeply moving collection, Kelly Cherry confronts the basic questions of love and death, faith and suffering. From her search for “a new poetry”, Cherry wrests a passionate, authoritative, powerful vision that is itself transfiguring. DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION focuses on the wisdom one gains from pain rather than on the pain itself. Cherry grasps her anguish to see how much she can stand.


Translations by Kelly Cherry

Antigone” in Sophocles 2

A boon for classicists and general readers alike. For the reader who comes to tragedy for the first time, these translations are eminently ‘accessible,’ and consummately American in tone and feeling. For the classicist, these versions constitute an ambitious reinterpretation of traditional masterpieces; after 2,500 years, the poetry of Euripides and Aeschylus has found a new voice—in fact, ten of them.


“Octavia” in Seneca, The Tragedies (Vol II)

Are there no limits to human cruelty? Is there any divine justice? Do the gods even matter if they do not occupy themselves with rewarding virtue and punishing wickedness? Seneca’s plays might be dismissed as bombastic and extravagant answers to such questions — if so much of human history were not “Senecan” in its absurdity, melodrama, and terror. Here is an honest artist confronting the irrationality and cruelty of his world — the Rome of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero — and his art reflects the stress of the encounter. The surprise, perhaps, is that Seneca’s world is so like our own.

Comments are closed.