To read Curled in the Bed of Love is to feel the incessant tug between devotion and desire that can unmake even the closest couple. These eleven stories are set in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in true Left Coast style, Catherine Brady's characters are as resolute in evading middle-class conformity as they are in clinging to their illusions about love. And while they never shy from paying their dues, they can't help but wonder sometimes if their choices have at last accrued too high a cost. What lies in the bed of love, with women and men curled sometimes in repose, sometimes in a defensive knot, are failed dreams, reproofs, ambitions, and stubborn beliefs.
Always, mortality threatens the lovers' embrace. In the title story, Jim and his HIV-positive partner contend with an illness that has fueled their love but also threatens to consume it. In some stories, an outsider exposes the frailty of a relationship. Claire, who's opted for a steady marriage in "The Loss of Green," is both stirred and repelled by the advances of her former mate Sam, a radical environmentalist with a predatory need to reassert his claim on her. And in "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord," Debbie, compelled to translate a brief affair with her cousin's fiancé into a profound transgression, comes clean on a sleazy national talk show.
All of Brady's stories are gritty and unflinching in their gaze, yet lyrical and rich in the imagery of stasis and change--an empty house too long on the market, a pair of kayakers riding out a patch of rough sea, a greenhouse in which the orchid blooms only suggest the darting vitality of butterflies and birds. There is much to learn in these tales of flawed but good people working hard to hold their lives together.