Klonaris, Helen. “If I Had the Wings: Short Stories”, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 2017.
I am not sure that any of us really understand what it means to be human. So often, we find ourselves hating that which we do not understand and shying away from those who did not fit the idea of what we might think is beauty, truth, friendship or what have you. Author Helen Klonaris is a Greek-Bahamian woman who shares what it was to grow up gay in a culture where tradition and religion hold court. In eight short stories, we get to know the author and, in a sense, feel what she feels. Her characters do what so many of us are afraid to do— face reality and understand that it is part of our lives and who we are.
The characters in these stories confront reality head on as they attempt to deal with their communities that are dependent upon and torn by tradition and religion. These communities impose restraints on anyone who is different and does not subscribe to what others consider as the norm. Anyone who has either grown up or lived in this kind of environment will quickly be able to identify with the stories in this collection, yet every one of us and every character is different. What we all share is the desire to belong and to belong on our own terms. We do not ask for tolerance but for acceptance. In order to deal with the realities of our surroundings, we must be willing to confront them and we must confront ourselves as well. There are alternative realities should we feel the need for them and this we see in a few of the stories here.
Growing up gay in the small Greek-Bahamian community, which feels its traditional culture and religious pieties are under threat, is fraught with constraints and even danger. The main characters in Helen Klonaris’s poetic, inventive and sometimes transgressive collection of short stories confront this reality as part of their lives. Yet there are also ways in which young women in several of the stories search for roots in that tradition – to find within it, alternatives to the dominant influence of the Orthodox church.
That church becomes a character in this collection and you feel its presence even when it is not mentioned. Christian theology and practice has not been good to us and has brought about pain and remorse. Is it not fascinating that there are those of us who still love the church? Many have been spiritually destroyed for loving a body that wants nothing to do with us. One of the greatest gifts that we have is the ability to tells stories and often stories, as we see here, provide a catalyst for change and a larger awareness of how we live.
The stories in this collection follow the themes of colonialism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia and sexism, the very issues from which we try to escape. Going back to what I said earlier and what seems to me to be the message of the book is that we must deal with who we are in all of its aspects remembering that it is not enough to “just be”. I absolutely love this book both for what it says and how it says it. The prose is pristine and lyrical and the stories are stories that matter. Before I began to write I had to decide whether to look at each of the eight stories or write about the book as a whole. My choice is obvious here.