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by Havilah Barnett
Jessy Reine’s novella The Secret of Geraniums reconsiders the confines of acceptable boundaries within romantic relationships, pushing past traditional stories of perverse encounters with dominant men and offering instead a feminine account of love. The story follows thirty-three-year-old Rebecca, who has a ten-year-old son, Sam, from a past rape. Rebecca forms an “unspeakable bond” with Alluvia, who helped with the difficult birth, and after being introduced to Alluvia’s husband, Francis, the two “sensed without speaking the tenderness they could provide each other.” Despite her traumatic past, Rebecca takes back power as she explores her sexuality through various intimate encounters. This exploration is raw and wanting, and it often reaches veers into the erotic poetics of the earth, making The Secret of Geraniums a space for women to break free of social conditioning so as to reimagine and reclaim feminine sexuality.
Rebecca and Sam live on the “dim bottom floor” of a tenement in Queens, New York, a setting that showcases how being aroused isn’t only for pleasure—it also serves to connect Rebecca to the world around her. For instance, Rebecca toils “every afternoon in a little garden” behind their tenement, and during one of these visits, she sees a moth “penetrate the mouth of [a] flower and invisibly take what it needed” before blood drips “down her thigh” as she starts menstruation. She and the garden share an intimate experience through universal sexual energy. Everything is alive, consistently engaging, and full of desire.
Societal conventions continue to break as Rebecca refuses to possess romantic partners. For her, sex seems to transcend the physical plane, moving into a more spiritual realm. In one example, Rebecca’s romantic partners “combine in her mind; they became all the same being entering her, and her emotional need for each was like beads hung on a string.” She enjoys everyone for who they are, allowing their individuality to grow as she connects with their souls. This is furthered by Rebecca’s belief that “her center is not in her chest but in her sex”; she refuses to be limited by gender and expresses a polyamorous love toward the estranged couple, Francis and Alluvia.
This novella is deep and emotionally complex, with powerful imagery, raw characters, and profound poetic language. Reine roots for self-love, feminine sexual expression, and the breaking down of the hollow structures society has built around love and relationships. Most of all, and most importantly, this book is a celebration of women living in power.
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