Sexing the Cherry is a short text; only 144 pages in length; divided into sections (chapters?) of varying lengths – each headed, not with words, but a picture of either a pineapple or a banana. Strewn through these sections, almost haphazardly, are time changes and even a mini-story: The Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. This section is titled, and contains smaller sections within itself, headed with small princess figures.
The banana headings mark the sections where the Dog Woman is the narrator; the pineapple sectors are told by her adopted son Jordan (named after the river). This is significant in that the Dog Woman takes Jordan into town when he is young to glimpse the 'first' banana, and later, when Jordan is an experienced traveller, he brings home the 'first' pineapple for the Dog Woman to see.
The Dog Woman, an unusual, boisterous but gentle giantess of a heroine, occupies a hut on the banks of the River Thames in seventeenth century London; but don't be fooled, this story isn't set just in the one place, time or dimension. The Dog Woman breeds boar-hounds for a living and her position in the story seems to be to act as a mirror; presenting readers with their own inner hypocrisies of gender roles and beauty. She rescues Jordan from the slime of the Thames when he is just a few days old.
Jordan is a voyager, the apprentice and companion of naturalist John Tradescant. His 'real-life' journeys are bizarre enough, but he also seems to travel in his mind – across realities, dimensions and time. His stories have the reader questioning: What is real? What is true? What is time? Jordan and his mother glimpse the first banana, the first pineapple, witness a long civil war and the execution of King Charles the First. Jordan seems always to be searching for something in far away lands, whilst his mother is content to live the humble life she knows.
Sexing the Cherry questions our pre-ordained notions of time and space, family, gender roles and love. Society has conditioned us to think of the Dog Woman as hideous, and Winterson plays on this, creating in her heroine a gentle heart and an honest nature. Winterson's characters defy modern ideas of gender roles, family love and also the physical, sexual love. Sexing the Cherry takes every thought you have of 'ordinary' stories, chews them up, and spits them back in your face.