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The subject of this story is a Black female poet who sets her poetry to jazz music. She's married with one child—and one child only—and she's looking for her first lover. There's nothing particularly wrong with her marriage except that there's no more spark. She has a very specific reason for picking up a lover at a writer's retreat in New Hampshire: "She had never had a lover; he would be her first. Afterwards, she would be truly a woman of her time" (Lover.15).
Basically, she's looking to round out her life portfolio. YOLO and whatnot. It seems like she's decided that one relationship is never really going to be enough for her—and after all, men are pretty disappointing creatures in the world of this book, so why would you want to settle for just one, anyway?
Our poet's take on motherhood may make you shudder: "She did not intend to have a second one, after all—that would be too stupid—and this one would, before she knew it, be grown up enough for boarding school" (Lover.18).
But she's still an irresistible character: self-assured, beautiful, and with a great career. She's got writing mojo that other writers would kill for: "It was as if she worked only for herself, for her own enjoyment (or salvation) and was—whether working or simply thinking of working—calm about it" (Lover.17).
Of all the characters in this book, she is clearly one woman who won't be kept down. In her mind, life is an adventure waiting to unfold before her—one lover at a time.
Let's be clear: Ellis has one thing going for him in the main character's eyes, and that's that she can get him. Check out this description:
"My lover," she thought, noticing for the first time his head of blue-black curls, his eyes as brown as the Mississippi, his skin that was not as successfully tanned as it might have been but which would definitely do. He was thin and tall, with practically no hips in the beige twill jeans he wore. (Lover.10)
Snake hips? Pasty skin? Muddy eyes? The appeal Ellis has for our heroine is obviously just this: the idea that he can be her lover. It's literally all in her mind.
Walker confirms this when she describes Ellis as a whiny, failed poet with a serious case of fragile masculinity. Even the main character has to create an alternative story about Ellis—replacing the reality with her own romanticized version of him—in order to get on with things:
She had blocked him out since his mention of the two unpublished novels. By the time he began complaining about the preferential treatment publishers now gave minorities and women she was on the point of yawning or gazing idly about the room. (Lover.15)
But she doesn't make a display of her boredom. Ellis is only there to serve one purpose: to transform her into a modern woman who takes pleasure where she wants it.