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  • Divinations on Deviations
  • Heather Fowler (bio)
Three. Annemarie Monahan. PM Press. 300 pages; paper, $16.95.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees. Kij Johnson. 297 pages; paper, $16.00

In my view, the term "speculative fiction" can best be classified as a vast umbrella under which the strange books hover, often typified by genre designations such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror—along with many blended literary texts that involve experimentation or avant-garde construction. It is no wonder, then, that the sex in such narratives often falls short of vanilla and may not even involve a genuinely procreative act.

The novel Three (2012) by Annemarie Monahan is a book that avoids easy classifications by consisting of a narrative that fractures one person's possible future into three distinct potential paths after a young version of the soon to be split protagonist meditates on T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), quoting, "Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?" as a launching pad for departures into three independently evolving realms of possibilities, all of which contemplate lesbianism—where the narrative's underlying question seems to be, "In how varied a direction can one person go with her sexual or economic reality based on small choices that expand into radically different erotic and social scenarios?"

On one such speculative departure, Monahan introduces the reader to Kitty, a married woman who romantically engages with her sexually aggressive female professor, only to find that a desired intimacy can rapidly devolve from something once considered spiritual and sacred to a relationship irreparably cheapened by her professor's later attempts to transition their exchange to one of sexual play dates after the faculty character Faye secures her own husband. As Kitty's earlier feelings of lust and reverence vanish, the reader rather longs for their return since the passions Kitty's husband evokes are nowhere near the elegance and intensity as the ones Faye might inspire, even in a masturbatory fantasy:

I lie down. My nails skim my mouth. She kisses me. My palm brushing down. She breathes against my throat. The scent of her. I trace the fall from my ribs, so full, so fervid. She holds me. She whispers love. The revelation, the religious feeling. My hips lavish under my hands. The heat of me on my fingers. She touches me like this, beautiful Faye, like this, like this, like this.

As this character's potential other life, the author also introduces Katherine, a physician haunted by her exchange with a woman named Amanda who both renounces her for God and later states she has been taken advantage of by Katherine, as opposed to having participated in an active and consensual sexual exchange. Kathryn, unlike Kitty, is ravenous in her acquisition of female lovers, but, as a result of the trauma Amanda's betrayal causes, cruises cyber-sites for married women, stating that the types of women she prefers match the following type/s: "Untried. Longing…not the thrill seekers, not the perverts, but women enkindled with strange fire…. I want them to write to me, to be sought for just one faultless night. I will never, ever be reimagined as a predator again."

The final alternate path for this woman is embodied by a politicized activist character named Ántonia. Ántonia's lifestyle is that of working at a bizarre and increasingly delusional feminist utopia located on a boat commune called Atlantis, where Ántonia's narcissistic partner Josephine first gathers a following with Ántonia at her side and subsequently throws her over for the attentions of a more zealous zealot, whose faith in a mystical existence, full of vibe and energy, verges on insanity. As those in Atlantis find more and more food sources that must be stricken from their palates to keep their spaces pure, the sex in these passages is progressively neutered and Ántonia's attachment to Josephine comes to a chillingly silent end: [End Page 13]

I open the bedroom door.

They're not kissing, they're not touching except where their heads bow together, caught in a lover's whisper...


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pp. 13-14
Launched on MUSE
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