The Cleft
Doris Lessing
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Buy *The Cleft* by Doris Lessing online

The Cleft
Doris Lessing
272 pages
January 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This remarkable writer offers a tantalizing take on the original society: the women of the Cleft, who existed before the male of the species, self-procreating through the cycles of the moon. Content with ancient blood sacrifice and oral tradition, roles are assigned - keepers of memory, gatherers, fishers, each group providing the essential services of the community.

But after a period of time - and there is essentially no measurement for this phenomenon, time - an aberration occurs, a child born with genitalia outside the body, a freakish event that causes the infant to be labeled Monster. This first Monster is cast out, left on the Killing Rock for eagles to feast upon.

When more such strange children are born, the women are confused, curious and disgusted, the tiny babies often the object of torture, starvation, and abuse, most left for the eagles. Only later, when an adventurous member of the Cleft leaves the security of the sea, do the women discover that the eagles have not been devouring the infants but carrying them to safety in a nearby valley with others of their kind.

Confronting this community of Monsters, some deformed from the earlier experiments at the Cleft, the woman returns to her cave with tales to tell, a rare curiosity bubbling to the surface of her usually placid mind. So begins a flirtation with the others, an attraction that leads to familiarity and procreation. After more time passes (which still cannot be accounted), it becomes evident that the males are critical for the continuation of the race, male and female inextricably tied by expedience.

Resolving an enmity that arises between the old and the new, the Cleft must make accommodations if the race is to continue. So begins the uneasy truce that has always attended male-female relations, the troublesome issues of gender coexistence, combined with an irresistible attraction: “How few we are. How easily we die.”

Narrated by an aging senator tasked with recreating the history of the Cleft, the tale assumes the context of truth as it is known, the senator adding his personal narrative of estranged wife and children. In this history, the dominance of the Cleft is never addressed; clearly, female exists before male, the oneness of the Cleft unassailable.

Eventually (also impossible to measure), the inevitable need for procreation transcends even the most egregious differences, an interdependence that creates the stuff of myths, tragedies and dramas, where “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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