Review

Kissing the Virgin's Mouth: A Novel

by Donna M. Gershton



First–time novelist Donna M. Gershten was awarded the first
Bellwether Prize for Fiction for KISSING THE VIRGIN'S MOUTH.
Founded by novelist Barbara Kingsolver, the prize is intended to
support "a literature of social responsibility." But while KISSING
THE VIRGIN'S MOUTH can be read as a novel about the roles women are
expected to play in both Mexico and the United States, it is
perhaps less compelling as a social statement than it is as the
moving story of one woman engaged in a very personal struggle quite
apart from any wider social implications. Indeed, both BETWEEN TWO
FIRES and LEAVING TABASCO are more explicitly books with a
message.

None of which is to say that KISSING THE VIRGIN'S MOUTH is a
failure. Gershten, who it should be noted is one of two authors in
this survey born neither in Mexico nor in Cuba, has created a
strong narrator in Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vásquez. Growing
up in extreme poverty in Teatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, Magda uses
her feminine wiles and her sharp mind to build a new life for
herself. Along the way, she also develops a philosophy of life
built upon gratitude, not to any traditional religious figure, but
in a more general, encompassing way, for both the good and the bad
she encounters.

The story of Magda's escape and eventual return to Teatlán is
told well, but occasionally too sketchily. For example, for a time
after leaving her home, Magda dances in a cage in a club where she
catches the eye of a rich suitor who eventually becomes her first
husband. Rife with opportunities for character development and
quality storytelling, this segment of Magda's life is summed up
very briefly, as are several other key moments in the book.

When Gershten does delve deeper into a portion of Magda's life ---
her bizarre relationship with the proprietor of a movie house is
the prime example --- she reveals a talent for characterization and
for finding the details that turn a strange tale into a telling
moment. In places, KISSING THE VIRGIN'S MOUTH reads like the
outline to a much deeper story, which Gershten would clearly be
able to tell well.

Reviewed by Rob Cline on January 22, 2011

Kissing the Virgin's Mouth: A Novel
by Donna M. Gershton

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060933585
  • ISBN-13: 9780060933586