Lesbrary Review: This One’s Going to Last Forever by Nairne Holtz

I wasn’t sure how to sum up This One’s Going to Last Forever, so here’s the blurb:

This One’s Going to Last Forever reflects both the naïve optimism of those who have yet to learn about love — and the cynicism of those who feel that by now they should know better.

Clara, a university student working at the McGill Daily, discovers that in love and politics, commitment is often more imagined than real. Kelly and Sonya share a bond that has less to do with love than with their dependence on each other and a succession of friends who supply them with heroin. A middle-aged man who performs drive-through weddings dressed as Elvis realizes, as he marries his first same-sex couple, that the only domestic partner he is ever likely to have is his ailing father. But when he ends his latest relationship, an unlikely friendship results.

The characters in these darkly comic stories and novella may be searching for love in all the wrong places, but they are also able to find love in the most unexpected places.

Nairne Holtz has a great skill for establishing characters and moods that really stick with you. Each story seems to contain a distinct moment more than a strict plot. Definitely the strongest part of This One’s Going to Last Forever is the characters. My favorite protagonist was Clare of the novella “Are You Committed?” She feels completely clueless compared to everyone around her at McGill: everyone–her roommates, her fellow journalists at the school newspaper, her friends–they all seem to know exactly who they are and what they’re talking about, and she’s still trying to gather enough facts to form an opinion. She doesn’t know what her sexuality is or the difference between the personal and political or what “Silence = Death” means. It makes her relatable.

A few times the book bumps into the gay pronoun problem: if you’re writing about two (or three or more) women, it’s really hard to establish which “she” you’re talking about, to it’s easy to overuse names. Overall, however, the writing is strong.

This One’s Going to Last Forever is a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in Lesbian Fiction. They are a terrific resource for finding quality queer books.

Get This One’s Going to Last Forever from a local indie bookstore through Indiebound.

Have you read This One’s Going to Last Forever or another lesbian short story collection? What did you think of it?

Poetry

I wanted to update with something new that I’ve read, so I picked something small: Halfway to Silence by May Sarton. It’s a collection of her poetry. This is the first book by her I’ve read, though she’s written many.

I have a funny relationship with poetry. I love it, in some ways: right now I’m in my second college poetry class, and I like going to the spoken word poetry events that happen regularly where I live, but I can get really bored by… I suppose more traditional poetry. I dislike wordiness, flowery language, and above all, describing scenery. Of course, that last one goes for novels, as well.

May Sarton’s poems seemed to lean towards those characteristics. That doesn’t mean that she’s a bad poet, not at all, she’s just not exactly my style. There were a couple I enjoyed, however, like “Love” and “Of Molluscs”. Although Sarton is a lesbian and I’m told she often writes about the lesbian experience, this collection didn’t really reflect that. In fact, I only found one poem that seemed to have any lesbian content, “The Lady of the Lake”, and I thought I’d share the first part of it to show Sarton’s style:

Somewhere at the bottom of the lake she is

Entangled among weeds, her deep self drowned.

I cannot be there with her. I know she is bound

To a dead man. Her wide open eyes are his.

Only a part of her surfaces in my arms

When I can lift her up and float her there

If you are looking for lesbian poetry, my favorite lesbian poet is the spoken word poet Alix Olson. You can read some of her poetry at her website or listen to her on Youtube.

For more lesbian poetry you can look forward to seeing reviewed, I own The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse by Stephen Coote, Poems Between Women by Emma Donoghue (which I am very much looking forward to), The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne Rich, and Songs of Sappho by the original Lesbian.

I also have access to some through the library: The Collected Poem of Audre Lorde and The Complete Poems of Sappho (I like to read different translations, though I recommend If Not, Winter).

Who are some of your favorite lesbian poets?

Lesbrary Lust: Lesbian Pulp Fiction

Well, I haven’t read any new lesbrary books since last post (I’m still working through a stack of library books), so I thought I’d introduce a new feature: Lesbrary Lust. Lesbrary Lust posts are about books I desperately want to read, but don’t yet own and can’t get through my library. This Lesbrary Lust post is about two books on a central theme: lesbian pulp fiction.

I’ve had a fascination with lesbian pulp fiction for a while now. I have lesbian pulp fiction magnets and the lesbian pulp address book, though I’ve only read three of the actual books: Another Kind of Love and Love is Where You Find It by Paula Christian, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and Spring Fire by Vin Packer. That’s because those were at my public library (yes, I have an awesome library) and honestly, they were pretty forgettable. Regardless, just the covers of these books are enough to fascinate me. Just look at the Strange Sisters collection of lesbian pulp covers (wow, I’m using a lot of links this post). The women are almost always at least partially undressed, and often there’s a shadowy, sinister man in the background. The titles are also something, like the classic Satan was a Lesbian, now going from $300-500, though it first sold for 95 cents, which explains why I haven’t read more of it: lesbian pulp fiction tends to be expense, at least $30 for a small used paperback.

It seems odd that lesbian pulp is such a major part of lesbian history, considering it was primarily written for and by straight men. They were considered pretty scandalous for the time, so to get around obscenity laws, these books had to Lesbian Pulp Address Bookhave a moral. Usually this moral was “homosexuality is wrong”. That meant that the vast majority of lesbian pulp ended terribly for the lesbians involved. One or both of the women either died or went crazy. A popular ending was a terrible car crash. Often the remaining partner was swept off by that shadowy man in the background of the cover, having learned her lesson.

Lesbian pulp wasn’t all bad news, though. Regardless of the content, they were proof of one thing: we’re not alone. Closeted lesbians in the 60s and 70s would squirrel these away under their mattress, or pass them between friends. They also advertised a sort of queer mecca, a wonderful place where you could be out and happy (Greenwich Village). Besides, there were even a minority of lesbian pulp writers who were lesbians themselves, or at least sympathetic to them. The Price of Salt was the first lesbian pulp to have a “happy” ending (as in, not a terrible ending), proving that lesbian pulp helped to pave the way for more lesbian literature.

So, to sum up: lesbian pulp is a) campy and hilarious and b) an important part of our collective history. How could anyone not be fascinated by that? Obviously, I want to read more of it, but I don’t have the money to build a collection (at least not yet). I’d be happy to just read more books about lesbian pulp, though, which brings us to the books I’ve been lusting after.

Lesbian Pulp Fiction by Katherine V. Forrest provides a collection of excerpts from 23 of some of the best lesbian pulp out there, as well as a brief overview of lesbian pulp in general, I think. This has been really highly rated and seems to be the book on lesbian pulp, so I obviously want it quite desperately. Well, hopefully I’ll find the cash for it soon, as well as for my next object of lesbrarian lust: Strange Sisters by Jaye Zimet.

Where Lesbian Pulp Fiction is about the best stories lesbian pulp has to offer, Strange Sisters is an examination of the artwork. Strange Sisters includes about 200 different hilarious and sexual covers. Although my lesbian pulp address book has a bit of this (it has about 26 covers and a brief description of the plot), but it’s only a taste; I would love to be able to look through all of these.

Have you read any lesbian pulp, or Lesbian Pulp Fiction, or Strange Sisters? What did you think of them?

Also, feel free to send me a review! I haven’t had any guest lesbrarian posts yet, and I’d love to put one up! It’s easy: just click on the Guest Lesbrarians link at the top (or click here) for details.

General Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with Lesbrary (queer women) reading, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first Lesbrary book you read. If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. Once upon a time, any books that had queer content had to demonstrate that they were not actually advocating for queerness, so they had to either go straight, die, or go crazy. Often a combination of these three. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgendered, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Teen

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia BrownriggPages for You

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumoured to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.

Memoirs/Biographies

1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully). Just click on Guest Lesbrarians at the top.

Thanks for reading!