We Can Still Be Friends


"Kelly Cherry brings an unerring ear and a poet’s sensibility to her difficult task: unraveling the tangle of emotions in our all-too-human hearts."—Lee Smith

"We Can Still Be Friends is Kelly Cherry at her best, which is to say it is a brilliant novel both furious and funny."—Robert Olen Butler

"Cherry’s novel is lyrical, offbeat and sexy."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ava has invested everything in her long-running affair with Tony, a ...

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"Kelly Cherry brings an unerring ear and a poet’s sensibility to her difficult task: unraveling the tangle of emotions in our all-too-human hearts."—Lee Smith

"We Can Still Be Friends is Kelly Cherry at her best, which is to say it is a brilliant novel both furious and funny."—Robert Olen Butler

"Cherry’s novel is lyrical, offbeat and sexy."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ava has invested everything in her long-running affair with Tony, a handsome doctor from Chicago, though lately, things have not been quite right. Then Tony telephones Ava to tell her that yes, there is someone else, and that his new love, Claire, is the beautiful art-historian wife of a movie producer whom he had been seeing for two months. But, he assures Ava, of course, he cares for her, and they can still be friends.

Ava is furious. This was the relationship that was supposed to lead to marriage, or at least a child. She decides that she is owed a baby, and that she is going to collect, if not from Tony then from Claire’s husband, Boyd. By permitting Claire’s affair, he is to blame for Ava’s loss. And Ava flies out to Los Angeles to tell him so.

But what happens changes everything, for Ava, Tony, Claire and Boyd. This is a witty and whimsical take on the age old adage, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

Kelly Cherry is the author of six works of fiction, as well as a memoir, essays, stories, nine volumes of poetry and two translations. She is Eudora Welty professor Emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships for her writing. She now lives in Virginia with her husband.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet, translator and novelist Cherry (My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers) fashions a subtly sexy m nage quatre for the postfeminist set, chronicling the fallout of a shattered romance. Divorced heart surgeon Tony Ferro dumps his lover, eminent women's studies scholar Ava Martel, for blond art historian Claire Buchanan. Ava decides it's time to stop playing nice. She is tired of living in "the darkened halls of sadness" and she wants a baby: if Tony won't sire it, then she figures that Boyd Buchanan, Claire's uxorious movie-producer husband, owes her one. She travels halfway across the country to present her reasoned case to Buchanan, who agrees to impregnate Ava, more as a bulwark against mortality than to hurt his wife. The novel moves swiftly between Claire's sumptuous home in the L.A. canyons, Tony's Chicago condo and Boyd's sprawling Santa Fe ranch. Cherry exhaustively probes the characters' motivations and intentions, relating them from all four points of view. The plot and anguished tone bear some similarity to Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, which provides the novel's epigraph. But with its blandly glamorous characters (the women are beautiful and hold Ph.D.s; Tony is a stud who is "bedded down by all the lovely women") and rather implausible dramatic turns, Cherry's work reads like a movie treatment. Appropriately enough, it's a guilty pleasure. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As she realizes later on, college professor Ava Martell miscarries her lover Tony's child at the same moment that Tony, a Chicago surgeon, falls immediately in love with the coolly beautiful Claire, an art history professor whose marriage to Boyd, a Hollywood producer, has been studded with her extramarital affairs. After Tony breaks up with Ava on the telephone, assuring her that they can still be friends, Ava decides to strike back by getting pregnant with Boyd's child. As Ava, Tony, Claire, and Boyd take turns narrating the novel, often retelling the same scene from different points of view, it becomes nearly impossible for the reader to assign blame to any one of these four basically likeable if sometimes misguided people for the mixed results of Ava's plan. Cherry, a poet and writer of both nonfiction and six novels, including The Society of Friends, offers a nuanced portrayal of the complexity of love, and explores how our choices-made in anger, fear, or even from the worst of motives-can sometimes lead to unexpected epiphanies in our lives. Recommended for public libraries supporting literary fiction collections.-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An unremarkable start-another thirtysomething woman contemplating her unfulfilled singleness-builds into a rich, wise, and gently humorous group portrait of adults looking to connect to 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 LA, 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 find out, 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 LA, 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 (The Society of Friends, 1999, etc.) has smart things to say about academia, race, men, women, and identity, and, given 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. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman/ Elaine Markson Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569473658
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Kelly Cherry is the author of six works of fiction, as well as a memoir, essays, stories, nine volumes of poetry and two translations. She is Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships for her writing. She now lives in Virginia with her husband.

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Read an Excerpt

We Can Still Be FRIENDS

By Kelly Cherry


Copyright © 2003 Kelly Cherry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1569473234

Chapter One

* LOVE. It's not for weaklings.

She thinks: It ought to be. It was meant to be. The meek, the mild, those in need, those who succored those in need, love was meant for them. But that must have been B.S.: Before Sex.

And now begins the time of being assaulted by fury, of being suffocated by despair. Yet she already knows what it means to be a woman scorned. What woman doesn't?

What female, she asks herself again, twisting the telephone cord until it is as convoluted as a strand of DNA, over the age of goddamn thirty give or take a year or two, doesn't?

And since she already knows everything she is about to feel, she thinks perhaps she should simply feel it right now, all at once, like ripping a Band-Aid from a cut, and be done with it.

She has no time for this, for a broken heart. Is she not a hotshot scholar? Her schedule overflows with classes, papers, conferences. She is in Memphis only for the semester, and only because back home in Chicago, where she is tenured at highly ranked Midland University, her salary reflects a stupid bias against Women's Studies-and women. Thus, this semester she is Visiting and Distinguished, not to mention better paid, and also-but how can this be?-crying her heart out, in Memphis. Muted February light from the windows behind her, where she sits on the couch, makes everything bleak. Her whole life feels rented. She is in a makeshift apartment, a makeshift life. All she has to do to realize that there will never be anything permanent for her is look around.

She wonders if she had known even before she left Chicago that this was coming-this telephone call from Tony that he would begin by saying, "I need to tell you something." If she had taken the job here to make it easier for him to do this to her. Or to avoid having to show him her face when he told her. She could imagine the jumble of emotions on her face. She could imagine his face, every careful calibration of feeling, never too much of anything, no more distance, anger, tenderness, distractedness than the exact amount of each needed to make his point. You wanted that kind of control in a surgeon. You didn't necessarily want it in a man.

But you wanted his dark sexiness, his bravery.

She will not stand for this-for the way he is making her feel. She is not going to carry a torch, yearn, sigh, sob into her pillow at night. Wait all alone by the telephone.

Love. It puts life on hold.

She shifts the receiver against her shoulder. His words pour into her ear like a medicine or poison, something both Shakespearean and pharmaceutical, something flooding.

He had called to tell her that he had found intuitive love with-and been put in touch with his inner self by-the beautiful art-historian wife of a movie producer, an amazing woman (but since when did being blond become amazing, she was tempted to ask) whom he'd met in San Francisco two months previously, though he'd not mentioned this fact before, and immediately things that had seemed encoded, such as his arriving late for her birthday dinner and saying it was because of a "last-minute phone call," became as clear as skywriting, and-this was what had to be said, he said-to explain that he could not, therefore, continue his sexual relationship with her, even though he did care deeply for her as a good friend and he hoped they would go on being friends-though exactly how they were going to do this, when she asked him, he didn't seem to know. As he rushed on, she kept an eye on the dead wasp.

The wasp had been dead for a couple of weeks and was disintegrating on the pale green carpet, becoming smaller and translucent in a slow fade. At first she had planned to get out the vacuum cleaner but that would have meant rummaging through the crowded closet, which was surely stuffed with the skeletons of former visiting professors. Then she kept thinking that soon she'd overcome her squeamishness and pick the poor dead thing up with a paper towel and flush it down the john. At some point, she had become fascinated with the process of decomposition: it reminded her of the ending of that movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man, where at the point of disappearance the hero merges with the cosmos. She thought wistfully of merging with the cosmos.

"Beautiful?" she said.

"I'm not talking just about physical appearance," he said quickly, a lurch in his voice like a roller-coaster. It was tricky, she thought: when you broke up with someone you had to work in all your justifications and excuses without being too cruel to the other person. She felt sorry for him, having to take all these curves at high speed.

She didn't believe that he was not talking about physical appearance. When she thought about his physical appearance she felt vertiginous, urgent. His welcoming eyes, knowledgeable hands, Arthur Ashe good looks were a drug to her system. Besides, he had managed to mention the word "blond" before almost anything else.

"I think I should tell you something about her," Tony was saying, "if you can handle it."

Could she handle it? Could she handle the electric current running at high voltage through his low voice, something like a charged fence meant to keep her out? She knew she could not handle hanging up. The minute she hung up, it would be over. Of course, that was what he was telling her, that it was over.

She started to cry but she was not going to let him know that. She bit her bottom lip, but then that reminded her that he had once said he wished her bottom lip could be an all-day sucker. She bit harder. "It doesn't really have that much to do with sex or even intellectual stimulation," he was saying. "It's just that she's taught me so much about myself. She's put me in touch with feelings I haven't had since childhood."

What feelings were those? She imagined him as a small boy in a New York ghetto, a lonely, brainy little black boy (half black but it had always worried her that he seemed to be passing, he wouldn't lie to a direct question but he was willing to let friends and colleagues assume he was white, maybe Lebanese or Saudi, when half black was the same as black so far as the world was concerned). She was feeling maternal toward him!, and he was going on about the difference between love, which was what he felt for this movie-producer's art-historian wife and was easy and natural and above all something called "intuitive," and affection, which was what, he now said, he felt for her.

Maternal indeed. As he continued to talk-all this talk; it was what men replaced feeling with (he had never talked this much before)-she began to realize that the meeting with the amazing blond married woman in San Francisco had taken place at almost the very moment when she, then back home in the battering cold of Chicago-all the colder because he hadn't suggested that she come along to his medical convention, she could ride the streetcars! visit Fisherman's Wharf! eat Chinese! but No, he'd said, No-was miscarrying his child.

Her only pregnancy. She'd kept telling herself that she couldn't be pregnant, not for the first time at this late date, but could she? Her breasts were the most sensitive they'd ever been, full and straining against her bra.

"Ted and Yvonne"-also from Chicago, also attending the convention, why wasn't she invited, well she must have known, she must have sensed even if she hadn't admitted it to herself, and she was admitting it to herself now, that he had been sending her a message by not inviting her-"introduced me to them"-to the art historian and her movie-producer husband-"and they say this couple is the most exciting, glamorous couple they know, and as you know they know a lot of people," he went on, while she remembered the would-be baby leaking out between her legs, sneaking out, skipping town heading south taking a detour around life straight to death, that last stop, it was supposed to be a last stop not a first stop, a tiny nameless blot, not even a fully formed clot-a clotlet.

She'd been wrong, she'd told herself-she wasn't pregnant, she was getting her period. After the lab tech had punched her arm to draw blood for the serum test, she'd stopped in at the hospital gift shop to stock up on Women's Wear Daily and Working Woman, pop-culture she as a feminist professor of modern American literature in the Women's Studies Program was supposed to be above reading yes, but she did wear clothes almost every day, she was a working woman, she believed in Women's Studies but she was in need of a long-lasting mascara that would not run down her face when her boyfriend informed her that he had fallen in love with an art historian, and while she was paying the cashier, she felt the warm sticky liquid pooling in her underpants. This had felt, at least for a moment, like the end of everything. It had felt as if the blood had come straight from her heart, some artery connecting heart to womb. The body weeping slow red tears. She had bled all weekend, her stomach cramping, her thighs marbling like a cake against the toilet seat. On Tuesday, the nurse specialist called her and said the test was positive. "It can't be," she'd said to the nurse; "I'm having my period." There was a long silence before the nurse spoke again.

She couldn't help wondering if worrying about why Tony didn't want her to accompany him hadn't been a cause of her miscarriage. Maybe her body had intuited that he was having intuitive sex with the blond woman. When events were that coincidental, it was hard to believe they were just coincidental. While Tony elaborated on the blond woman's virtues, she thought of a baby she might have named Carlos or Carlo or Maria, something to reflect Tony's complex ethnicity, little wasp (but one-fourth black) crinkling into a papery nothingness like the wasp on the carpet. Merging with the cosmos on a tampon, a minipad thrown in for good measure.

She had told Tony about the miscarriage when he got back from San Francisco. Now she wondered if that was why he had not told her about the married woman then. Maybe if she had not immediately blurted out her own news he would not have waited until now to tell her his.

He had come to her house straight from O'Hare that Sunday evening, and if she hadn't told him right away he would have heard about it at the hospital the next day. After she told him, Tony corrected her terminology. Like the other doctors at the hospital, he informed her she'd had a "spontaneous A.B." She had lifted the tea kettle from the stove and joined him at her kitchen table. She reached across the table for his hand. "How come you're so cold?" she asked.

He shook his head.

She rose and looked out the window. The Chicago neighborhood was bandaged in snow. Here and there, holiday lights were already strung and shining.

She had felt stronger addressing him from there, standing next to the counter. It was a position that she was comfortable taking, the position of a teacher lecturing to her class.

"It was a miscarriage," she had said, arguing strenuously for some semantic point that she knew seemed silly to him. But to her, "spontaneous" sounded like a choice, and she had not had a choice.

She came back to the present to discover that she had moved from the couch to the hallway floor and now was sitting with her back against the wall, the telephone cord looped around her wrist like a bracelet. She was telling him she loved him, and he was telling her he cared for her but that it wasn't intuitive love, but at least he didn't know she was crying, she was sure she was managing that. He had had one night with this woman plus one weekend-he'd flown all the way back out to California after telling Ava he couldn't free up his schedule to make the short hop down from Chicago to Memphis-and he was saying that he knew it was unlikely to last "given that she lives so far away and is married" but that he also now knew that when he did marry again it would be to a woman for whom he felt this "intuitive" kind of love.

Ava wondered if intuitive love was any different from the kind that had prompted him, in the beginning, to call her once or twice a day; that had made him unable to stop touching her-her hand or her face or the back of her neck; that had caused him to smile and say that she made his heart beat faster so it was a good thing, wasn't it, that he was a heart surgeon. He pointed out that they had not been communicating very well for the past couple of months. She did not point out that his leading a secret life would tend to put a crimp in their communication. "I thought we were building something special," she said. "A bond. I thought every hassle or problem we had and solved was actually something that strengthened the bond."

She could hear he hated her saying that: there was a sharp note of disagreement in his voice just for a second-he had said he wanted to be friends but clearly there were limits to friendship, things you didn't say to a friend such as never tell a man he's been living a tie, pretending to be something he's not, this is not what a man means by friendship-and it was sharp enough to cut. A knife in your chest, this is what a heart surgeon does. She wanted to win him back. Trying to flatter him with her jealousy, she said, "I hope I never meet this woman." She laughed, lightly. "I'll strangle her." She unwound the cord from her wrist and looked at it.

And then when he said, "That would make me very unhappy"-as solemnly as if she had not been joking-she knew she had lost him.

With an odd objectivity she wondered what she was going to do first when he hung up: call her shrink or her girlfriend. She supposed she'd better call the shrink first; it always took time for the answering service to get hold of him. She could call her girlfriend in the interim.

"I care about you," he said again, this time with finality. "I care about what's going to happen in your future."

"Me, too," she echoed softly. There was a pause like arrhythmia, followed by the sound of his hanging up.

The click of his receiver disengaging from hers seemed to ricochet around the room like a bullet. This must be what people meant when they talked about a parting shot.

In the last moments of their conversation, she had sunk completely to the floor, which, she realized, had not been vacuumed at least since the previous visiting professor, who must have been a smoker. Curled up on the carpet, she saw that the figured roses were dusk-colored with cigarette ash. It was so interesting lying here on the floor, on a bed of roses. She rolled over and found herself face to face with the incredible shrinking wasp.

* ANTHONY G. Ferro, M.D.,


Excerpted from We Can Still Be FRIENDS by Kelly Cherry Copyright © 2003 by Kelly Cherry
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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