Stuff and Nonsense: queer

Showing posts with label queer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label queer. Show all posts


River of Teeth

Set in an alternate 1890s America, where feral hippos run rampant in the Louisiana bayous, a band of hippo wranglers have been hired by the federal government to clear them out ... by blowing up a Very. Big. Dam. The wranglers are a motley bunch, the feral hippos are violent, and there’s a Very. Shady. Man. mixed up in everything. Also, one of the hippo wranglers may be a no good double-crosser.

River of Teeth is a gritty, dark story of violence, mistrust, passion, and revenge. Seriously, the feral hippos are magnificent toothy killing machines and the Bad Man in the bayou is pretty darn Bad. Our gang of wranglers are clearly no heroes themselves, but they’re going to do the job they were hired to do (plus, maybe, get some personal revenge) whatever that takes.

Perhaps to balance out the darkness, a tender, non-binary love story springs up between two of the wranglers and, delightfully, no-one in-story acts like that relationship is unusual in anyway. I do not think I have the words to express quite how pleased I was to encounter an alternate history that actually embraces all its possibilities and doesn’t just default to white, cisgender heterosexual people as the norm.

Overall, I found River of Teeth an enjoyable read. I do wish the novella had been fleshed out into a full-length novel, because sometimes the story felt a bit choppy and under-developed -- continuously promising though, so I never felt tempted to put it down. There is another novella in the series, Taste of Marrow, which appears to continue the story several months on and I may pursue that through my library system. (Both novellas have also been bound together into the collection American Hippo which came out in late May).

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. Tor, 2017.


The Queen of Ieflaria

Princess Esofi has made the long journey to Ieflaria to wed Crown Prince Albion, someone she has been betrothed to since childhood. Although they have never met, they have exchanged many letters, and Esofi is looking forward to her marriage … or, rather, was. The prince has died, leaving Esofi and Ieflaria in precarious positions. Esofi does not want to return to her homeland (from my reading it seemed almost as if she couldn't) and Ieflaria doesn't want her to go, as they really need the magic she brought to fight off the dragons pillaging the countryside.

Esofi needs to marry someone royal to stay in Ieflaria. Someone like Adale, Albion's sister. And that would be an excellent solution to everyone's problems ... except Adale never expected to be the heir, is completely freaked out by the idea, and is pretty set on doing a runner. As an alternative to Adele, there are always the Terrible Cousins ... except, well, they're terrible.

Let me just be honest with your here -- I preordered The Queen of Ieflaria because Twitter promised me poofy dresses, fire-breathing dragons, adorable kittens, and girls kissing girls.

It did not disappoint.

I liked Adale and Esofi -- both very different characters, but each interesting and compellingly-written. Their romance grew slowly from an initial tentative liking into something tender and sweet and rooted. They were so cute together. Every scene with just the two of them getting to know each other left me grinning like a goof and wishing for more. Indeed, I would have been perfectly content if the entire novel had just been a series of scenes in which Adale and Esofi exchange amusing banter while wearing fabulous clothes.

I do wish the secondary characters were a bit more fleshed out. Most were very one-note -- for example, Lady Mireille was very snotty, "Lady Lisette" was very sneaky, and Adele's friends simply seemed like a mass of drunken puppies. I also felt the world-building was a bit uneven -- sometimes Esofi's interior monologue felt very infodump-y and other times I felt I was being tortured with hints of Things That Might Be Important. But, hey, The Queen of Ieflaria is both a debut novel and the first in a series -- I expect the world-building will improve as Calvin goes on and concepts/subplots that are unclear will become crystal.

Ultimately, while I feel The Queen of Ieflaria does need just a little more polish, it was still an extremely enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, Tales of Inthya, when they are released. The second book, Daughter of the Sun, will be out in November and I hope it contains more floofy dresses and even more kissing. Hooray for pansexual princesses!

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin. NineStar Press, 2018. Kindle edition.


Far From Home

Rachel is a nice seems-to-be straight girl struggling with student loan debt, under-employment, and an eating disorder. On a whim (almost), she agrees to marry Pari, an equally nice lesbian who, while in the country legally, can't do the work she most desires under her current visa. Two years of marriage will help Pari get her green card and, in return, she will take care of Rachel's debts.

Okay. That sounds kind of improbable. And horrible. And dangerous. And, in the real world, Rachel and Pari's relationship would not work out, the USCIS would have no problem spotting marital fraud, Rachel would go to jail, and Pari would be deported.

But Lorelie Brown's Far From Home is a sweet, hopelessly upbeat and romantic work of fiction. Of course, Rachel and Pari fall in love and happily-ever-after the fuck out of the story. Yes, some readers will probably have to suspend a ridiculous amount of disbelief to enjoy Far From Home ... but I had no problem with it. It's a fictitious romance in a fictitious California in a fictitious America where Everything Will Turn Out All Right and, considering the very real and horrific deportation stories I keep reading, that's exactly what I needed.

Also, I should point out I have a great weakness for marriage-of-convenience HEA stories and I'm always on the look for sweet, tender LBTQ romance. Really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I gobbled up Far From Home over the course of a rainy afternoon and then immediately went looking for more. Far From Home is a Belladonna Ink novel, sharing the same universe and a few characters as Brown's Take Me Home, but it is not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other. However ... having read one, how could you not read the other? And wish then spend fruitless night wishing there were more?

Truly, I enjoyed this Far From Home so veryVERY much. While not without flaws, the story is still so sweet, poignant, and delicious that it is definitely going on my "Books To Reread When It Feels Like The End of The World" (wait that's every day, now, isn't it?) list.

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown (Riptide Publishing, 2016). Kindle Edition, Riptide Publishing, 2016.


Iron & Velvet

In an alternate London where magical creatures secretly live amongst humans, a werewolf has been found murdered in the alley behind a vampire night club. Kate Kane, private investigator, is hired to identify the murder or murderers before war breaks out. The vampires blame the mages, the mages claim it wasn't them, and the werewolves are just well pissed. It seems to be a complicated case ... and Kate's sleeping with her (hot lesbian vampire) boss probably isn't helping matters ...

The beginning of the novel was stuffed with so many references to untold backstory that I wondered if I had skipped a book, but I checked twice and, no, Iron & Velvet is definitely the first book in the Kate Kane: Paranormal Investigator series. The repeated references to characters and events I knew nothing about became increasingly irritating and I began to wonder if the book would be a DNF.

However, Kate Kane, snarky violet-eyed half-fairy lesbian with a weakness for femme fatales, began to grow on me a little bit and the world-building, disjointed as it felt, kept being just interesting enough to keep me going. I wanted to know what was going on in the woods at Safernoc Hall and who had initially conjured the toothy tentacled beastie from beyond the stars. Was one of the Princes playing some deep game? Trying to start a war or unseat a rival? Was Werewolf Granny's bite worse than her bark? Would there be a half-fairy, vampire, werewolf ménage à trois? I needed to know.

Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall (Riptide Publishing, 2013). Kindle edition.


Heterosexual Privilege; Or, Let's Stay Focused on the Cheese, Please

Usually, I just don't talk about my sexuality because, frankly, it's not all that interesting. The bears at my bird feeders are interesting. The Ann Cleeves novel I just finished was interesting. The chocolate orange bundt cake recipe I can't stop thinking about is interesting.

But, ohhhh, when I'm sitting in a classroom, ostensibly learning about cheese, and the instructor and several students start talking about how they can't stand a local openly gay television news anchor because he's "so gay, gay, GAY" about everything. They don't talk about how straight they are. Why does he keep bringing gay into everything.

That's when I want to say something about heterosexual privilege.

Unless I were to introduce myself to them as a bisexual, most people -- especially if I've referred to The Husband at any point in prior conversation -- would assume I was straight. Because, for most people, society is coded straight. The baseline for humanity is straight.

And you can either let straight people go along thinking that, or you can out yourself (over and over and over again ... and it can get damn tiring). Straight people don't have to make that choice. They are free to act straight all the time -- talking openly about their relationships and families -- and their straightness goes completely unnoticed. They never have to worry about being the only straight person in a cheese class, for example, because it never occurs to them that is even a possibility.

But the openly gay television news anchor? The most casual mention of his husband is going to draw attention. And if he talks about his spouse as often as I talk about mine then, BAM, he's waving his gayness all over the place and is Just. Too. Gay.

But I didn't want to start something. I just wanted to learn about cheese. So I kept my mouth shut. But the experience keeps nagging at me, so here I am, throwing words down and hoping to make sense out of a tangle of feelings.



When I first began reading Watchtower, I was a bit disappointed, because it seemed like your standard male-centric fantasy of conquest and revenge, but Lynn very quickly disabused me. Ryke's world-view shifts as his exposure to the world outside Tornor Keep expands and, by the end of the novel, many of the female characters have moved to the forefront of the tale. However, (spoilers, yo) I was a little confused/disturbed by the author's decision to fridge Rhyke's under-represented sister, Becke (seriously, not a person or even a plot device, just window-dressing in the shape of a woman). Her death did nothing to advance the story and it felt kind of like ... I don't know ... she was killed because she (and all the other unnamed Keep women) couldn't measure up against the novel's "strong" female characters? Only women like Sorren, Norres, Maranth were fit to survive and thrive?

Excluding the treatment of the Becke and the other Keep's women, Watchtower was a fairly enjoyable read. It was refreshing how matter-of-factly Lynn wove same-sex relationships, non-binary identities, and non-traditional gender roles into the novel. Perhaps not exactly common in Ryke's world at the beginning of the novel -- he saw romantic relationships between men as a Southern thing -- but he did not seem bothered by it and accepted Sorren and Norres pairing without much surprise once he realizes what was going on.

Sorren and Norres. I'd really like a novel about them. Lynn gave us some of their backstory -- more so than many of the other characters -- but not enough. Surely, "Sorren" and "Norres" were names they chose for themselves, not the names they were given. What was it like for them, leaving Tornor and the north? How did they persuade the green clan they were ghyas and why?

There wasn't a lot of contextual world-building in Watchtower -- plenty of geographic descriptions, for example, but not a lot of explanation as to why things were the way they were. For example, I never quite understood why Col Istor attacked the Keeps. He could, so he did? Surely, that's a bit simplistic? Also, it's one thing to take and hold a Keep, it's another thing entirely to take and hold six of them indefinitely.

Watchtower, 1980 World Fantasy Award winner, is the first book in The Chronicles of Tornor and while out of print, it is still available in some library systems. Don't worry if you can only find Watchtower and not the other two books in the series as the novel neatly wraps up all its principal story lines, so you don't absolutely need to continue.

Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn (Putnam, 1979)


Cheer Up Love

First read about Susan Calman's Cheer Up Love in Sarah Millican's no bullshit women's magazine Standard Issue (if you're not reading it, you should be) and it sounded brilliant. As there was no way I was going to wait for the American edition to come out in October (love of god, international publishing complex, get it together), I clicked over to Book Depository and had a copy in my hot little hands the following week. Hooray.

And Cheer Up Love was so very good. Uplifting. Poignant. Bittersweet. Heartwarming. Silly. Serious. So comfortingly honest about anxiety and depression. Also, there's bingo and Marlene Dietrich. If you're not familiar with Calman, she's an ex-corporate lawyer turned comedian who's appeared on a bunch of BBC Radio and Channel 4 shows. I know her best from bootleg episodes of British comedy quiz shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats, QI, and Would I Lie to You? where she adds a certain je ne sais quoi. 41, petite, Glaswegian, funny as hell, with excellent dress sense (Marlene Dietrich, natch) and two disinterested cats ... she's the kind of woman I'd love to be friends with. Yes, so maybe I have a little crush? It's perfectly understandable if you read the book.

Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate by Susan Calman (Two Roads, 2016))


Wake of Vultures

I don't read Westerns or horror and while Wake of Vultures both is and isn't either of those things, it certainly dressing up like them, and that just confused the heck out of me when I started reading it.

Ohhhh, but then ... by the time Nettie Lonesome arrived at the brothel with the other ranch hands I was hooked. Couldn't put the darn book down. Gobbled it down in three hours flat. It's a weird fantasy-Western-horror mash-up with a magickal nonwhite, mixed race, cross-dressing, bisexual protagonist. In some ways, I feel I'd waited my whole life to read Wake of Vultures and I'm thoroughly chuffed to hear Nettie's adventures will continue in Conspiracy of Ravens (also, confusingly, sometimes titled Horde of Crows) and I cannot wait for October.

I received an advance reading copy of Wake of Vultures at BookExpo America 2015 and, as an ARC, it is possible my version differs from the one currently available at your public library so caveat lector, etc.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (Orbit, 2015) [ARC]


What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1

What Did You Eat Yesterday? is about two regular middle-age guys with regular jobs -- one's a lawyer and the other's a hairdresser -- doing all the usual, repetitious grown-up things, like balancing the household budget and making supper. Ohhhh, the suppers! There's a new supper in every chapter and they are just utterly crave-worthy. Every step is lovingly illustrated and described in great detail -- so much so that you could use the manga as a cookbook. Each chapter also ends with a "proper" typeset recipe or cooking tip, just to drive home the culinary nature of What Did You Eat Yesterday?.

Rather like with Yoshinaga's Antique Bakery the food isn't merely window dressing but serves as kind-of a framing story around which the characters spin the daily stories of their lives. While it's not clear how long Shiro and Kenji have been together -- possibly three years -- they seem to have the relaxed, easy relationship that suggest long-term partnership. There's a lot of intimacy between them, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of romance left. Or, to put it bluntly, there are no shenanigans in Volume 1. Not even a smoocheroo.

Shiro and Kenji are gay, obviously, and while Shiro claims to be totally cool about it, it's Kenji who is most out and most likely to casually talk about it. While I found Shiro's unwillingness to be open about his sexuality a little frustrating I also completely get why he's so reticent. I can only hope that, as the story progresses over the next ten or so volumes, he becomes more comfortable and more open. (And less cheap! But if he weren't so thrifty, then how would he have befriended Watermelon Woman?)

I can see where some readers might find What Did You Eat Yesterday? a bit boring -- as it's real slice-of-life stuff -- but that's what makes me love it. I've read very little manga about middle-aged people doing real life things, so was thoroughly charmed by What Did You Eat Yesterday? and have already added the next two volumes to my Amazon cart.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga (Vertical, 2014)


Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)


Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante

After Maxie Mainwaring is caught locking lips with Elaine Ellman in the country club powder room during the Daughter of the American Pioneers luncheon, Maxie's outraged mother cuts off her allowance. Vowing to make it on her own, Maxie pursues a number of interesting career options -- everything from being a summer rec aide to writing for a hoity-toity ladies fashion magazine -- while managing to get tangled up with a Scandinavian American crime syndicate and the mysterious, brooding, and deliciously butch Lon.

I'd picked Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante up on a whim and, wow, what fun! As a parody of classic lesbian pulp, it might not be every reader's cup of tea, but I (who hoped it would be reminiscent of the Beebo Brinker or Nancy Clue books) was quite satisfied. For me, it was the perfect summer read -- both fluffy and fun without being silly. Also irreverently sexy, if such a thing is possible.

I am totally chuffed to discover Maxie is part of a series, The Lesbian Career-Girl, and look forward to reading Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary and Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher ... in 2016, when I'm "allowed" to buy books, again.

Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante by Monica Nolan (Kensington, 2013)


Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

I don’t know where to start talking about Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. A plot summary would both give too much away and explain absolutely nothing. So let me just talk about my FEELS.

The Internet tells me that Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is quite possibly the worst place to start reading Delaney, but I thought the book was fantastically fun, mind-bending, and eye-opening. It makes me crave science fiction as a genre in a way I didn’t think I could anymore. It makes me long for a universe that does not/will never exist. Even now, days after finishing the novel, I feel disoriented and half-drunk on prose.

And yet I freely admit that Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is a problematic novel. The things I love about it -- its lack of explication, its (in places) almost stream of consciousness narrative style, its nonstandard use of pronouns to describe gender and sex -- can make the novel deeply confusing and hard-going. I’m sure there were whole sections in which my reading left me holding the completely wrong end of the stick.

And I don’t care! There is such enjoyment in the manipulation of language (such a reimagining of communication between people!) that reading the novel was simply too much fun for me to care about whether I “got the point.” For example, she and he are used in ways that make it very difficult to ever “correctly” identify the gender, sex, sexual identity, or “humanness” of most characters ... and those identifiers aren’t important, anyway. Basically, it’s Fun With Words for readers who like that sort of thing and I do, very much.

Being unable to sex or gender or orientate by a known system neatly avoids, in my mind, the very real science fiction problem where aliens (and/or far future humans) are so humanish looking and humanish behaving that we end up bringing all our baggage of expectation and assumption to the story. Frankly, I didn’t know/understand what Delaney’s characters were doing half the time and I quickly gave up trying to figure things out and just decided to enjoy the story Delaney was spinning.

And what a story! Even when I found myself thinking “What were you smoking when you wrote that passage, Delaney?” or “Really? Dragon-people with how many tongues?” I couldn’t put the book down. It took me five days to read it, because I frequently had to stop and let its ideas settle in my brain, but it was worth every minute.

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delaney (Bantam Books, 1984)


Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance is the first book in The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series by Gyles Brandreth and was my library's July book discussion selection. I've always been tremendously fond of Oscar Wilde and a novel in which he stars as an amateur detective sounded like just my cup of tea.

It was ... okay. The period detail is well done with a good feel for London at the end of the Victorian Age. The scandalous hints of sexual impropriety are treated delicately and appropriately for the time (even if it is a bit frustrating for the modern day reader). Meeting fictional versions of Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Sherard was vastly entertaining. Wilde, a little less so. I enjoyed him very much as a character when he was being Oscar Wilde the Poet, Playwright, and Epigrammatist. But Oscar Wilde as Sherlock Holmes was a disappointment.

When Oscar is acting as Holmes, we are treated to stereotypical scenes of Holmesian brilliance. You know, the scene where we encounter a new character and Holmes immediately starts saying brilliant things he should have no way of knowing about the person? Often it has little to do with the overarching story and everything to do with showing of Holmes' scintillating deductive skills. There's nothing wrong with a scene like that, if it is carefully and sparingly used, but there's too much of it in Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance and it often seems to come out of the blue. Switch off Wilde. Switch on Holmes. Switch off Holmes. Switch on Wilde.

Also, as the clues Wilde-Holmes bases his deductions on in such scenes are frequently not made evident to the reader it makes it impossible for the reader make similar deductions. It forces reading to become a very passive experience -- with the reader just along for the ride -- and I am an active reader. My brain is constantly firing away, trying to figure out character motives and plot direction well ahead of whatever and/or whenever the narrator may chose to tell me. Riding along on Sherlock Holmes' or Oscar Wildes' coattails is just downright frustrating. It makes me say nasty things like "Oh, no, here come's another Mr. Clever Dick moment."

And yet, for all the clever dick moments, neither the motive behind and nor the means of murder were particularly clever or believable. There was also a definite squick factor to the murder's aftermath that jarred with the delicate way Wilde and friends' sexual improprieties were handled.

Will I read more in this series? No. Am I full of regret for having read it? No. Three out of five vermillion-coloured ties.

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth (Simon & Schuster, 2007)



She was gracious and yet fading, like an old statue in a garden, that symbolizes the weather through which it has endured and it not so much the work of man as the work of wind and rain and the herd of the seasons, and though formed in man's image is a figure of doom.

A preface by Jeanette Winterson! An introduction by T.S. Eliot! I approached Nightwood with high hopes ... and they were cruelly dashed against a wall of dull and impenetrable text. The novel begins with the birth of Felix, jumps ahead thirty-odd years, introduces us to circus people, introduces us to the "doctor," and then (finally! on page 38!) we meet Robin Vote. But do we? The obfuscated prose is so dominated by Felix and the "doctor" that I was unsure how to "read" Robin except as a nervy woman who should never have married or, heaven help them all, had a baby.

And then we meet Nora ... and I just gave up. Skipped ahead to the last two chapters, mumbled "what?" a lot to myself, and put the novel aside.

Basically, I'm just smart enough to know I'm not smart enough to appreciate Nightwood. I'm sure, for the right reader, it's phenomenal. However, it left me feeling as if I'd spent the evening battering my head against a wall.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (New Directions, 2006)


Top 10 Tuesday: Classics I Want to Read

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, I'm talking about the ten queer classics I most mean to read, plus a few "more mainstream" classics for diversity's sake. I read a lot of queer lit in college, but as I aged I seemed to grow away from it and, aside from big names like Alison Bechdel and Sarah Waters, don't read nearly as much.

I guess I could see that as a "good" thing -- I took what I needed from queer lit and moved on, as I have moved on with other genres (genre is not the right word and, hopefully, you know what I mean) -- but sometimes I think I simply allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of "mainstream" lit because it still feels easier for me, even in 2014, to talk or write about mainstream lit.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
England between the world wars. A sixteen-year-old orphan moves to London to live with her half-brother and falls in love her sister-in-law's friend.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule
1960s Nevada. An English Professor arrives in Reno to establish a six-week residency necessary in order to obtain a divorce and falls in love with a change operator at a local casino.

Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
1870s England. "Simple" girl falls for a fortune hunter and becomes a victim of terrible cruelty and neglect. Fictionalized account of a real murder.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
1930s England. Journal of teenager recounting her life as part of a genteel-but-impoverished English family living in a decaying castle. (Am I the only person who hasn't read this book?).

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
1940s France. A prisoner recounts the story of Divine, a drag queen with an interesting assortment of friends, including a murderer. The author was in prison when he wrote the story so there is speculation he is the narrator.

Patience and Sarah by Alma Routsong
1800s New England. Two Connecticut women, one wealthy and the other decidedly not, fall in love, muck things up, and then set up house together in a "Boston marriage."

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
1890s England. Man sells his soul so that the beautiful portrait of him will age and fade while he does not. Man then mucks up relationship with the woman who loves him and enters a downward spiral of vice.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
1960s-1980s New York. A Jewish girl with gender identity issues finds her home life more and more stifling, ultimately running away to Buffalo … and then on to New York. I've owned a copy of this novel for a few years now and I've really wanted to read it, but it strikes me as the kind of book I would need to block a weekend out to read and then recover from.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
1900s New York. Coming-of-age story of the daughter of poor immigrants. (Again, am I the only person who hasn't read this book? I've avoided reading it for fear it will be excessively sentimental).

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
1850s England. Murder, intrigue, madness, mistaken identity, white mice, and bonbons. Who could resist?


If You Could Be Mine

Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.

Motherless Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since forever. But now they're almost adults and their lives will be taking different paths -- Nasrin is getting married and Sahar will (probably) be going on to university. While Sahar does not want to lose Nasrin to some man (especially not a nice guy like Reza who will give Nasrin everything Sahar can never), she does not appreciate Nasrin's suggestion that they keep carrying on under her husband-to-be's nose. Sahar wants to love Nasrin openly and such a thing cannot happen for two lesbians in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

But. There might be a solution. A loophole. Sahar will become a man and then she can marry Nasrin and live the life she was meant to live. But such decisions are not easy. And some sacrifices come at too great a cost.

What is it with YA novels making me cry? For such a slim little book, If You Could Be Mine packs quite an emotional wallop with a surprising depth of story and character. All of the characters -- even the secondary characters seldom on the page -- seem thoroughly human and I cared about them all, wanting them all to find better futures for themselves.

Nasrin is, perhaps, not as fully fleshed as Sahar, but then we do not see the story through her eyes so it is hard to know what she feels as she makes certain choices or decisions. I spend much of the novel wanting to tell Nasrin off, but Sahar's pigheadedness was also deeply frustrating. It was very much like watching two friends you deeply care about do something incredibly dumb.

Anyway, If You Could Be Mine was well worth the time and I look forward to reading more books by Farizan.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Algonquin, 2013)


Two Boys Kissing

Two boys kissing. You know what this means.
For us, it was a secret gesture. Secret because we were afraid. Secret because we were ashamed. Secret because it was a story that nobody was telling.
But what power it had.

Narrated in first person plural by the men who died during the AIDS crisis, this is ostensibly a novel about two boys kissing in an attempt to set the world's record. But it is also about other boys -- some in relationships, some alone, some looking for themselves, some looking for belonging. And, of course, it is about the dead, because we cannot talk about how we got to be here without talking about where we came from.

It is good to look at the world and know that, no matter how resistant individuals may be, humanity goes forward and the world gets better, bit by bit. But it is also sometimes hard to look at the changes that have happened (just in my lifetime!) and not think how much better it might yet be if so many people had not died.

It took me a month to finish David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing. Not because it is a lengthy novel, but because every time I read a bit of it I burst into tears. The day I decided to just power through and finish the damned beautiful thing, I cried so much that I gave myself a tension headache and chapped my nose.

It's good. Beautiful, poetic, bittersweet. It begs to be read aloud. Indeed, the rhythm and cadence of narration so put me in mind of Kushner's Angels in America that I checked a copy of the HBO special out from the library ... but haven't been able to watch it yet. Because CRYING. Dammit.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)


The Golden Cage

Torrès is also the author of Women's Barracks -- the first lesbian pulp novel and something I've been trying to through my library system ever since I read Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969. A novel about lesbians serving among de Gaulle's Free French forces during World War II? A novel that was condemned by the 1952 House Select Committee into Current Pornographic Materials? Of course I want to read it.

But, while I wait for a copy, I read The Golden Cage.

The Golden Cage begins with a young Polish girl on "the last train" out of Spain with her family in 1940. Constantly on the run (dad is a deserter and they're all nominally Jewish), the family is currently heading to Brazil via Lisbon. Unfortunately, at the Portuguese border, the train travelers all find they will not be allowed to travel on to Lisbon, but will be diverted to a seaside resort called Figueira da Foz. There, they are assured, they will be most comfortable and if they wish to pass on to Lisbon from Figueira, why then they need just fill out the necessary paperwork and wait!

And wait.

And, while they wait, they have petit affairs and dramas to distract them from what is happening beyond the beach resort, where it is always sunny and the war seems like a bad dream. Teenage Emmanuel falls for a worldly actress who is also the mistress of studly Rodrigo who was once the lover of Pascale who is now the wife of Antoine who is obsessed with the Free French Army and his wife's proto-romance with Debby, the cowboy-boot-wearing baby dyke. And other iterations of lust and longing.

Despite all the bed-hopping and lustful flirtations, The Golden Cage never feels even remotely titillating. Like a bad pantomime, the characters seem to be going through the motions. We're told too often about Pascale's unhealthy desires (and bad housekeeping ... as if bad housekeeping were code for nascent lesbianism) and Rodridgo's depravity -- he sleeps with men and women (sometimes at the same time!), likes candles and velvet draperies (who doesn't?), and owns an impressive porn collection -- but not shown what that means in the form of, say, character development or plot. It's possible The Golden Cage is just too subtle for my jaded 21st century queer feminist sensibilities, but it just feels ho-hum. A lot of people who wouldn't normally have much in common find themselves trapped together in paradise and proceed to have a lot of sex, because what else is there to do? Even that terse summation makes it sound more exciting than it is.

Admittedly, it's not just sex -- there's a lot of daily drama over who might know what about getting visas, and a few dust-ups over religion (no-one likes the Jewish Catholics), and Janka's dad might be moon-lighting as an abortionist -- but none if it seems to really signify anything. It's just ... people doing stuff before they go on to do (probably similar) stuff somewhere else?

Also, the lesbians never get it on. Everyone else gets it on (some of it quite rapey), but not the lesbians. Matter-of-fact, it seems like lesbianism is very much a stage for the two characters and they're both on their way to being happy heterosexual ladies.


The Golden Cage written by Tereska Torrès w/ trans by Meyer Levin (The Dial Press, 1959)


Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969

After reading Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, I wanted to know more about lesbian pulp fiction and ended up borrowing Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 through my library system.

The book presents 200 lesbian pulp paperback covers arranged into ten sections, including "Bi, Bi, Love," "Cleavage," "Sleaze," and (my favorite) "Cliterature." Obviously, the covers are generally quite trashy – sexy underwear, dishevelment, cleavage, longing looks. Delicious eye candy, really, and hard to take seriously … except I can’t help but presume they were read with some desperation by lesbians looking for hints of themselves.

And that makes me sad. But don’t let my sadness deter you from hunting down a copy! The book is overwhelmingly fun and entertaining. Not a book club book, obviously, but a great display book or conversation piece. To balance out the fluff, there’s a foreword by Ann Bannon (Odd Girl Out, etc.) in which she talks about how little the covers had to do with the works they contained or even the reality of the day.  For the publishers, of course, it was about moving inventory and making money. They simply weren’t interested in the reality of lesbianism or marketing to the ladies. But, obviously, lesbians managed to find them and buy them, anyway.
Because, despite all the care devoted to developing cover art that would activate male gonads, women learned to recognize what was a nascent literature of their own by reading the covers ironically. If there was a solitary woman on the cover, provocatively dressed, and the title conveyed her rejection by society or her self-loathing, it was a lesbian book … And if a lone male, whether looking embarrassed, hostile, or sexually deprived, appeared with two women, you had probably struck gold.

Perhaps even better than the frequently over-the-top covers are the blurbs:

"There are no men in a women’s prison, but there is plenty of sex. Laura found this out the hard way, as the Lesbian wolves began to stalk her." (Degraded Women)

"Every parent should read this shocking novel of adolescent girls who first tolerated vice – then embraced it – then could not live without it . . . !" (Private School)

". . . boldly probes the problem of the frigid woman, forced by her own desperation into unnatural paths!" (Warped Desire)

"A bold new look at an old transgression . . . portraying the frightening spread of lesbianism among the white women of modern-day America . . . !" (By Love Depraved)

"Marriage didn’t mean a thing to woman who bedded her friend’s husbands and feasted on lonely wives." (Deviate Wife)

*fans self*

There's also a small bibliography and list of resources in the back for those who are interested in collecting lesbian pulp or simply knowing more about it. Alas, the book was published in 1999, so ymmv with the online resources.

I wish someone would sell movie-poster-sized reprints of these covers as I would love to hang a few in my home! Until then, there’s hours to be frittered away at, an excellent archive of lesbian paperback artwork.

Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 by Jaye Zimet (Penguin, 1999)


Odd Girl Out

In a 1950s college town somewhere in Midwestern America, two sorority girls fall in love. Of course, their love must remain secret and that secrecy works Laura into knots. Younger than Beth, Laura is less assured and willingly plays the child in their relationship ... which made me a little crazy, by the way, but this is a pulp novel from the 50s and the whole dominant/butch/submissive/femme fandango was probably expected. (That said, the novel is surprisingly chaste).

Of course, Odd Girl Out can't just be two girls in love. No, A Man Must Come Between Them. While Charlie squires Laura around a few times out of duty to both their fathers, it's clear he's quite taken with Beth. And Beth seems to encourage him. Which absolutely freaks Laura out and causes her to react pettishly and with great melodrama. The rest of the novel explores the melodramatic (that word cannot be used to often in discussing this novel) messiness of the Laura-Beth-Charlie triangle.

More interesting to me than the triangle -- it seemed safe to presume it was just a matter of time before Charlie "won" -- was the Fall of Emily. Emily is Beth and Laura's seemingly boy-crazy roommate. She has her heart set on being Bud's girl and doesn't hide her desire or later goings-on very well. This gets her in trouble with her sorority (motto: "appear chaste at all times") and then further (entirely inadvertent) shenanigans caused her to be expelled and completely Ruined. Bud makes out fine, of course, because It's A (Straight) Man's World.

Yeah, who'd think a pulp novel would make me want to punch so many people? At least Laura comes into her own at the end. Beth makes her choice, too, but I'd like to see whether she's still happy with that choice ten years on.

If you're going to read Odd Girl Out, I strongly recommend getting your hands on the Cleis Press edition as it comes with an introduction by the author and the cover art is much more attractive. Also, the Naiad editions contains several annoying typographical errors which I hope have been fixed in the Cleis edition.

Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon (Naiad Press, 1986)