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Review of Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs

Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs
By Ellen Kennedy
Muumuu House, 2009


“I want to have sex with you.”

“Thank you. I want to have sex with you also.”

These opening lines to Kennedy’s “I Like Every Time We Have Sex” represent one side of the dichotomy that Kennedy sets up throughout Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs between a private and public ethics. In personal or private moments, like the one above, Kennedy’s speakers relentlessly exhibit a kind of binary—ones and zeros—type honesty. They actually have the kinds of conversations we only have in our heads. For this reason, at least under Kennedy’s spell, Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs feels like one of the purest examples of how to be good to one another, a contemporary collection of first-person parables.

While Kennedy’s speakers are as honest and sympathetic in public moments, in a social context, their honesty and sympathy appears anarchic, as if the world isn’t set up to handle this kind of pure goodness. “I am glad you would have sex with in me in public. I agree that it doesn’t hurt anyone. I wanted to have sex with you in the handicapped bathroom at EPCOT when we shoplifted the Alice in Wonderland dress.” And it’s true, or at least it feels true in this book. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. But in order to be good to one another, to give each other the things we want to when we want to, Kennedy convincingly makes it seem that we have to disregard social mores.

There are no real consequences in Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs, at least not for those who, say, break the law. For a certain kind of reader, I would imagine, this could seem too idealistic or childish. For them, the book might not contain enough of the real world, even though the things of the real world pervade—smoothies, weed, grocery stores, the subway, grandmothers, etc. But if you are won over by Kennedy and her contagious syntax, as I was, the book is a moving lament of the disconnect between how we want to treat each other and how the world wants us to treat each other.

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