Rebecca reviews Driving Lessons by Annameekee Hesik

Annameekee Hesik’s 2014 Driving Lessons is a cute and quick but also meaningful read. The novel follows teenager Abbey Brooks as she attempts to navigate her sophomore year at Gila High. Abbey’s journey is relatable, funny, and touching as she tries to get her driver’s license, survive high school, navigate the basketball court, come out to her mom, juggle friendship drama and relationship troubles as she tries to find a girlfriend. This book is a sequel and continues with characters who have already been introduced in a previous novel. I had no idea that this book was a sequel until I was already well into reading it. However, Hesik does a good job of ensuring that new readers can easily understand the characters’ history and this book can be read as a standalone.

Abbey is an extremely relatable character. But her actions can sometimes be frustrating. She is unfailing loyal to her unreliable and self-centred straight best friend, Kate, and she also has a penchant for keeping too many secrets. However, her reactions seem true to her character. The first-person narration is definitely faithful to that of a teenage girl. Abbey’s journey to fulfil her to-do list is a bumpy one filled with twists, turns, and several love interests. Things go disastrously wrong before they work out in time for a cute and happy ending which feels natural.

Although this book is definitely a Young Adult novel, its themes are applicable to readers of all ages and sexualities. Hesik examines the typical aspects associated with teenage life like sex, secret relationships, friendship troubles, and bullying. However, Hesik touches on other issues like dealing with the previous death of a parent (Abbey’s father died in a car accident and this ties in nicely with her reluctance to drive) as well as neglectful and homophobic parents. There are homophobic slurs as Abbey is bullied by classmate Nicky. However, their interactions take a surprising but organic turn (not quite what you may be thinking) as the book progresses. It is also refreshing that the characters are almost exclusively female and there is an abundance of lesbian characters with a few bisexual characters sprinkled in. However, the treatment of bisexual characters could have been handled better.

Abbey’s friends are a major part of the novel. They include ‘veteran’ you-know-who girls (cutesy code for lesbians which is somewhat endearing only because it is used so sparingly) like Tai, Mia, and Garrett (who is actually bisexual). These girls are well-written and seem very real as they support Abbey but they can also be secretive and self-serving. Abbey’s friendship with Kate is particularly relatable and the slow deterioration of their friendship is well-done. One of Abbey’s love interests, Devin, is deaf and her presence adds a nice touch of diversity to the novel. However, I would have liked to see some more characters of colour.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Abbey’s sweet and genuine relationship with her mom. Abbey’s mom is supportive while still being a very realistic parent. While Abbey’s eventual coming out is somewhat disastrous, her mom’s reaction is wonderful and it is great to read a novel where the protagonist’s mother is so openly understanding of not only her daughter’s identity but is also accommodating to her friends.

However, while many of the characters are well-crafted and memorable, there are too many of them. Therefore, there are too many side-plots that sometimes end abruptly or lack resolution. Kate’s drama with her partying and boyfriends overstays its welcome and Abbey’s mother’s return to dating are just two instances of too many plotlines in an already full book.

Annameekee Hesik’s Driving Lessons is a great and quick read. There is a lot going on in terms of plot and characters but, for the most part, Hesik handles the action well. I enjoyed this book and I look forward to more of Abbey’s adventures. If you’re looking for an easy but still meaningful read which features an almost exclusively female and lesbian cast of characters and a sweet and happy ending, you should definitely check out Driving Lessons.

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. She is an avid but sadly not very prolific reader and writer.

Tierney reviews Tapas and Tangelos by C. K. Martin

Sparks fly when Hayley and Kate first meet at a hostel in Spain–though the two have only just met, they end up falling into bed together that same night. They are drawn to one another despite their differences–Hayley is a Brit in her mid-thirties who runs a bar on a small Spanish island, and Kate is an Aussie in her mid-twenties, just passing through while backpacking. Hayley makes allusions to her unhappy past, and tries to distance herself from Kate, but to no avail: the two are drawn to one another, and begin to fall for each other. But just as they take their relationship to the next step, Hayley’s past unexpectedly catches up to her, leaving Kate feeling betrayed and their relationship hanging in the balance.

Let’s cover the good stuff first: this is a satisfying romance, with smooth writing that keeps the story flowing from one chapter to the next as the novel shifts between the character’s perspectives. It’s well-written–the steamy scenes between Hayley and Kate are sweet, with none of the cringe-inducing turns of phrase that sometimes seem to plague the more passionate moments of romance novels. Tapas and Tangelos is definitely an enjoyable read.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of the plot points and pacing leave a little to be desired. The specifics of Hayley’s tragic past really threw me for a loop when they were revealed: the revelation was completely unexpected, had very little build-up, and didn’t seem to fit with the previous mood of the novel. *spoilers* It is revealed that Hayley’s father was a serial killer who was caught when she was fifteen, and she was suspected of being an accomplice, despite her young age and the fact that she had no idea–so she moved to Spain and began living under an alias. It’s a very dramatic revelation that just doesn’t match the lighter mood of the rest of the novel: it feels heavy-handed in its treatment. *end spoilers*

There’s another odd (and tired) plot point that wasn’t my favorite: Hayley sees Kate talking and laughing with a guy from the hostel, and realizes she has fallen for Kate because of how jealous she feels, and proceeds to bemoan her broken heart because clearly Kate is in love with this man with whom she is having a single positive interaction. There are also some minor pacing issues: the novel’s denouement happens very quickly, and though there is an epilogue tying things together, the final moments feel a little rushed.

All in all, I would recommend Tapas and Tangelos: the solid writing certainly makes up for most of the novel’s oddities. Hayley and Kate are well-rounded characters whose budding romance is sweetly engaging. Give this book a read if you’re a fan of enjoyable and (mostly) realistic queer lady romance.

Tierney reviews Turning for Home by Caren J. Werlinger

It’s hard to summarize the plot of Turning for Home, chiefly because it’s kind of a hodgepodge of happenings without much tying them together beyond the fact that they are centered around a single main character – but I will try. *spoilers ahead, throughout this whole review*

Jules returns to the small Ohio town in which she grew up with her grandparents for her grandfather’s funeral. While there, a local lesbian teen writes her a note asking for her help as she comes to terms with her sexuality in this unsympathetic environment. After the funeral, Jules comes home to her partner Kelli, who feels like Jules is pulling away from her, as she did in her past relationships. Meanwhile, Jules engages in an odd flirtation with a fellow educator, while also counseling Ronnie, the teen from her hometown–and simultaneously hiding all of this from Kelli. Also, Kelli’s mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, as if all the rest weren’t enough drama. Throughout it all there are flashbacks to Jules’ childhood–her experiences with her strict grandmother and loving grandfather, who raised her after her mother left her with them, and her friendship with a neighbor boy that ended his tragic death, for which she blames herself, and whose ensuing emotions she has totally repressed well into adulthood. Needless to say, there is a lot going on. All of which is resolved by the end of the novel, in ways that don’t necessarily satisfy–or even make sense (for example, Ronnie is kicked out by her family because of her sexuality and ends up moving in with the mother of Jules’s dead childhood friend… which just seems weird to me).

Unfortunately, I was just not a fan of Turning for Home: the plot was way too busy, and, conversely, most of the characters didn’t really have well-developed personalities, beyond the fact that all manner of things kept happening to them, making it difficult to connect and sympathize with them. There are so many miscellaneous plot points thrown at the reader: drama with Jules’s past and with her present, drama with Kelli’s family, drama with Ronnie, drama with their friend Donna (who is also Jules’s ex) and her relationship–but ultimately I couldn’t bring myself to care about very much of it. The characters felt flat: Kelli doesn’t have much of a personality beyond loving Jules (even though Jules doesn’t seem to do much to deserve it), and Jules doesn’t have much of a personality beyond having a tragic past and being a jerk to Kelli because she is incapable of working through her own emotional issues (despite the fact that she is a school psychologist!). Right up until the end of the book, Jules is making decisions that just plain don’t make sense, and Kelly is hand-holding her through the process of being a mature adult who owns up to their emotions and decisions. It’s convoluted and not particularly engaging for the reader.

Turning for Home just wasn’t for me–but if the plotlines I’ve described sound appealing to you, go ahead and give it a try. I’m going to stick with other works by Caren J. Werlinger, like Cast Me Gently, which I very much enjoyed–it read like Annie on My Mind for grown-ups, thanks to its 1980s aesthetic and gently lovable characters.

Jess reviews Different for Girls by Jacquie Lawrence

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Different for Girls by Jacquie Lawrence, is a fast-paced and vibrant read that will keep you turning the pages and gasping for more.

Featuring a smorgasbord of central characters, its hard to not feel completely engulfed by Lawrence’s world including bar owner Cam and drug user Fran, stay-at-home-mother Brooke and wandering-eyed Nicole, their GBFs and baby daddies Ivan and Claude, closeted Gemma, her gay beard Kirby and her suspicious girlfriend Jude. My own confinement of these characters to stereotypes is an unjust judgement of predominantly complex and relatable individuals realised in totality throughout the book. In fact, the connectivity of the character lineup adds to the realism, with the plot casually shifting in and out of situations chapter to chapter. The broad themes in Different for Girls include motherhood, friendship, adultery, coming out and more broadly, self understanding vs public persona. The sex scenes (yes there are some!) aren’t over the top or seeking attention in any way–they fit well within the created world and represent their characters respectively.

The lesbian characters (more then 6!) are multifaceted and beautifully different (instead of tired, repeated cookie-cutter replicates). These are the exact sort of characters I crave for across the broader lesbian literature; oft littered with predictably questioning married women wanting to be freed from their straight bedroom boredom. My own imagination ran rampant with suggested plot twists, and I was repeatedly surprised by the written outcome.

I found myself constantly and vividly envisioning Different for Girls as a full-length feature film and I was delighted to find that a web-series is underway for release soon.

I’d recommend Different for Girls as one of the best modern lesbian fiction reads, if only in that Lawrence treats each character with respect and honesty. As always, it is so satisfying to have a nourishing meal after many mediocre snacks.

Stephanie reviews Don't Explain by Jewelle Gomez

 

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Don’t Explain is a collection of short stories by Black lesbian author, activist, and philanthropist Jewelle Gomez. Most widely known for her Black lesbian vampire novel The Gilda Stories, Gomez’s Don’t Explain is a collection of nine stories that employ rich, sensual, language to introduce readers to several carefully constructed characters whose stories set our minds and bodies afire. Although the collection was written in 1998, the stories are as poignant and relatable as they were when the book was published nearly twenty years ago.

For example, my favorite story in the collection, “Water With the Wine” is a new take on an old trope, the May-December romance. Gomez carefully deconstructs the most commonly held notions about romance between older and younger lesbians, and posits another reality for the women in her story. Alberta and Emma meet and become involved at an academic conference; however, differences in age, class and race threaten to destroy their budding relationship. Gomez deals sensitively and honestly with these issues and deepens our understanding of what it means to fall in love after the blossom of youth.

“White Flower” is a chronicle of desire, not quite erotica, but pretty close. Luisa and Naomi “can’t have a relationship, it’s too consuming too everything,” so their meetings are infrequent but filled with all of the lust and passion that two women can share. This story will leave you panting, it will also leave you wondering at what point the unbridled desire turns to obsession and manipulation.

In “Lynx and Strand,” the longest story in the collection, Gomez forays into the genre where I believe she does her best writing, speculative fiction. To put it simply, speculative fiction is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but an imaginative blend of the two genres, and in this story, explores what it means to live in a future where same-sex relationships are still policed by the state. Here, Gomez tackles issues of futuristic state governments, homophobia, body art, and what it means to truly become one with your partner.  The story is timely, some might say prophetic, because even though it was written nearly two decades ago, LGBTQ persons’ right to bodily autonomy is still being challenged, even threatened, in 2016.

For those familiar with Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, “Houston” offers a new chapter into the life of her Black lesbian vampire and offers a provocative look at what it means to be humane when you actually aren’t human at all.

All of the stories in this collection are sensitive, sensual, and offer a pleasant alternative to “mainstream” lesbian fiction.  The collection also focuses on Black women’s experiences, and this is what truly sets it apart from most of the lesbian fiction on the market today. The collection is short, only 168 pages long, but each of the stories offers entrée into the life of Black women, mostly lesbian, that illuminates the complexity of our lives and the power of our loving. If you have not had an opportunity to read any of Jewelle Gomez’s work, start with this collection and I am certain that you will want to read more!

Rachel reviews Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

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British novelist Sarah Waters is known for her historical novels, some of which take place in Victorian England and/or have lesbian protagonists. Her debut novel, Tipping the Velvet, first published in 1998, is viewed as a lesbian classic by many readers.

The story opens in Whitstable England, 1888, with eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley, who helps her family run their oyster business. Restless and wanting new experiences, she attends a theater one evening and gets her first glimpse of Kitty Butler, a performer who dresses as a man for her act. After becoming friends, Nancy grows strong romantic feelings and eventually joins Kitty’s act, taking the stage name “Nan King” and earning countless admirers. She is thrilled when she and Kitty admit their love for each other and begin a relationship, although Kitty insists on keeping it a secret. After an unexpected betrayal, Nancy leaves Kitty and takes to the streets, resorting to prostitution and masquerading as a boy to make ends meet. She is determined to forget her past, becoming reclusive because of it. Over the years she comes across countless people who shape her decisions. While a lot of the changes she experiences are difficult, others offer Nancy hope of turning her life around and falling in love again.

Sarah Waters’ writing is extremely rich in substance as she describes Nancy’s world, the people she meets, and the hidden lives of homosexuals. Scenery and surroundings are so well-detailed there was never any doubt where Nancy was or what was around her. The writing style seemed authentic for the time period, making Tipping the Velvet appear to have been published in the 1880s instead of a century later.

The novel’s characters each had their own differing views and personalities; it’s obvious that Waters put a great amount of effort into creating them all. Nancy herself was a bright young woman who did make some poor decisions, but also had a strong will to keep going. Her impulsive, vocal character both clashed and complimented with Kitty, who was a quiet thinker.

Two other people in the novel stand out for me the most, and they’re both polar opposites. Diana Lethaby was wealthy and well-connected, taking Nancy in at one point in exchange for a sexual relationship. But though she provided Nancy with nice clothes and an elegant home, Diana was really possessive and treated her lover like property. I despised her character and shared Nancy’s shock at her actions.

The other character is Florence Banner, a charity worker Nancy later befriends. She was easily one of the most complex characters in the book. Her personality shifted between cheery and grim, and sometimes she worked so hard helping others she didn’t think much about her own feelings. I was intrigued by her and wondered about her family and what kinds of experiences she had. As the story progressed and I learned more about her, it was much easier to sympathize with Florence and see the true, gentle-hearted person she really was.

Tipping the Velvet was an interesting take on sexuality in Victorian London. All through the book, Nancy meets a whole underground of gays and lesbians, which adds to her story because, although homosexuality was seen as a crime and perversion, there were still countless men and women who were trying to live their lives yet also acknowledge their feelings. Very little is really known about this world as it was almost never spoken of. But Waters makes strong parallels between then and now. Like today, there were bars and social circles where gays and lesbians found their refuge, and literature they read in secret, like Sappho’s poems.

Tipping the Velvet is a wonderful story for lesbian literature, although some readers may be uncomfortable with the erotica tone. I found it to be a masterpiece and look forward to reading Sarah Waters’ other books.

Shira Glassman reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

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To me, Roller Girl by Vanessa North is a roller derby book that includes a lesbian romance, rather than being a roller derby romance; there was a lot more going on in the book besides the relationship between Tina and her girlfriend–a lot that in my opinion enhanced the book and broadened its appeal. I’m no derby girl, but the game shines through the book–its appeal to Tina in the beginning, her anticipation as she auditions, the friendships she forms during practice–and I think that this element would please anyone who wants to read a women’s sports book, romance fan or no. In fact, I learned a lot about the game from the book, and I can understand a little more of the conversation–and starry-eyed face–of my college roommate who joined her local team just around the time the book came out.

My favorite relationship in the book was actually between Tina and her straight, married “derby wife” Lauren, an affirming platonic friendship that I truly felt and radiated off the page, but the romance between Tina and Joe was at least believable and hot. The sex scenes between them were definitely sizzling.
There are a ton of other awesome platonic interactions between LGBT folks in the book. Tina has a bunch of close male friends (from her former career in wakeboarding, which she used to fund her transition) who are all paired off with each other — they’re apparently main characters in North’s previous books, but I haven’t read them and never felt like I had missed essential details. And of course there are other f/f couples and women-attracted women both in Tina’s derby team and in the teams they play. Also, what would a sports book be without one of those “the not-sports part of televised Olympics coverage” heartwarming moments? Tina winds up getting to be a trans role model for a trans kid in one scene, and that was beautiful. So if you are specifically looking for this, especially given how important a part of our real lives our intra-umbrella friendships are and how if we reflect that in our literature it gets accused of being unrealistic, this book is a perfect fit.
I’m not sure how plausible it is for there to be turmoil over the idea of a player dating the coach in a situation made of 100% adults and it’s not a matter of employment, but by the time the relationship was revealed, North sort of fixed my skepticism by making it more about friend drama than “I can’t date one of my players”, which is totally understandable and realistic and made a lot more sense to me. Never believe that friend drama ends at high school, folks. My mom is a boomer and recently navigated some drama over where to have the bluegrass jam.
I am pleased to report that I have no idea what Tina’s deadname is, and that the team tells her from the beginning that if anyone tries to be transmisogynist — it’s a women’s team, so she was concerned — they’ll shut it down.
Since it takes place in Central Florida, I would have appreciated something that felt like home–I’ve read books that reference Publix subs, for example–but I’m at least happy that North didn’t get anything wrong about the region.
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Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Bessie reviews Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

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I really enjoyed this novel. I like comfortable domestic novels, but far too often they’re overwhelmingly straight. This was not. It’s about two families who have been friends for a very long time, growing together, and taking each other for granted. There are two couples, with one teenage child apiece. That one of the couples are interracial lesbians is delightful. It’s about teenagers growing up, and parents going through midlife crises. Taken together Straub suggests that coming of age is really an ongoing process, not something we finish at the end of adolescence.

I like how flawed the couples are. Their relationships feel very lived in and authentic. The romance is found in the way they’re still trying, and working on ways to be together after being together for more than twenty years. This sort of worn-in taken for granted partnership is a sharp contrast from the rush of confused discovery the teenagers are tripping through.

The best part of the kid’s story is the element of knowing someone for a very long time and then getting to know each other in a very different way. They grew up together, have known each other for their entire lives, but as eighteen year olds they are starting to see each other as people. One of the more interesting parts of growing up isn’t just figuring out who you are, but watching the kids around you decide who they are as well.

Modern Lovers is a coming of age story that doesn’t focus on identity. It talks about class, sexuality, and race, and has interesting things to say, but never gets too far away from the relationships between people. For Straub these are all parts of identities that inform how characters relate to each other.

The way Straub writes characters who have money is fascinating. Both couples are more than well off, and there is some family wealth as well. Different characters relate to this so differently, showing discomfort, indifference, and different sorts of evolving class consciousness. Differing  attitudes towards money also impact relationships. Money isn’t really a problem, but it’s an issue, and taking this on adds something. There are lots of comfortable domestic novels about families who have money that never acknowledges that these families having money is significant, and Straub manages to avoid that.

The issue of money plays into a more major theme, which is characters wondering how to be creatively fulfilled by their lives. Three fourths of the adults used to be in a rock band in college, with another girl who went on to become famous before dying young. The three of them have different relationships with music now, but having started with the dream of rock’n’roll informs who they are as adults. Trying to find the right outlet for artistic expression is an important plot point, and at times a major source of tension.

I love the hyper local specificity. I don’t know anything about the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, but it was presented with such clear authority. The characters have a strong relationship to the place, and that connection is clear to the reader, the affection and exasperation, the sense of home. It references street names and landmarks casually, in a way that adds depth and authenticity without becoming cluttered or confusing. I feel like I could take a copy of the book to navigate around the neighborhood.

As far as I’ve seen, Emma Straub is straight, and this sort of representation is what I want from straight authors. There are lesbians, and they are interesting, and flawed, and sympathetic. Their sexuality is important to the story, and to who they are as individuals, but not the only or even the most important thing about them. They’re given as much space and sympathy as the straight couple in the book. Not every book needs to be super queer, but it’s so good to read an enjoyable story where it feels like I could exist somewhere in the world.

This wasn’t the most exciting book I’ve read lately, but it was one of the nicest. It’s a very bright and clean book. It’s incredibly nice without being cloying. What I appreciated the most is that Straub treated her characters with incredible kindness while not shying away from their flaws.

Danika reviews Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

juliettakesabreathI don’t usually buy new releases. I acquire so many books that I tend to stick to used books and the library for new acquisitions. But when the review for Juliet Takes a Breath began to pour in, I couldn’t resist! I bought it brand new and moved it to the corner of my dresser, ready to be the next book I picked up. And then it sat there for about six months.

In that time, I heard more and more of the book blogs and vlogs I follow mention Juliet, almost always positively. But somewhere along the line the hype began to have the opposite effect. What if I was one of the few that didn’t like it? And then how would I even talk about it? I wanted to like it so much that I was afraid to actually read it in case it disappointed me. It wasn’t until booktube started the #diverseathon that I decided to finally take the leap and pick it. (“Finally!” My partner said. “I  feel like I’ve been hearing about that book every day for our entire relationship!”)

As usual, my nervousness was completely unfounded. I can see why so many people fell in love with this book, and I can only agree. It may not be for everyone–its focus on feminist politics and how they intersect with race and other factors will feel unfamiliar to some readers–but I thought it did a fantastic job with that focus.

This is a coming of age story about Juliet, who’s just had her eyes opened to feminist ideals by a book titled Raging Flower: Empowering your Pussy by Empowering your Mind. She’s so blown away by this book that she writes a letter to the author and lands an internship with her. She hops on a plane and arrives in the alien world of Portland, Oregon: a very different place from the Bronx.

There are lots of things going on in this book, but what stuck with me is its recognition that people are complicated and flawed. You can have some things figured out and get other completely, devastatingly wrong. And it’s up to us to decide which people are worth sticking with despite their fuck-ups and which people are toxic for us despite the things they get right. I think that’s such an important and affirming thing to see in a book about social justice.

This also really captures the feeling of diving into feminism and social justice and just getting hit with waves of information that are counter to what you’ve been taught to believe, and the overwhelming process of trying to sift through all of these ideas and find what makes sense to you, what you’re not able to wrap your head around yet, and what’s actually hate wrapped up in the right vocabulary. There’s a lot of theory and discussion in this book, and that makes sense for what it’s addressing.

I loved this book, and I can’t wait for Gabby Rivera’s next one.

Bessie reviews After Delores by Sarah Schulman

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Sarah Schulman is a writer and ACTUP activist. Her novel After Delores was published in 1988. It’s a mystery set in the aftermath of a breakup, with the narrator trying to understand how to exist in the world now that her lover Delores has left. She creates a vivid portrait of New York City at the time, while also offering timeless observations about mourning a relationship.

The New York City Schulman writes about is downtown and dirty. No one is very clean or good-looking, and those who come close aren’t to be trusted. Schulman is interested in what it means to be a lesbian in a city like that. In the introduction she writes about the danger that came with living openly as a lesbian in the 70s and 80s, which “produced a kind of desperation, a desire to exist when one was not supposed to, especially on her own terms.” One character says that, “It’s too easy to be gay today in New York City. I come from times when sexual excitement could only be in hidden places. Sweet women had to put themselves in constant danger to make love to me.” In the past the danger was romantic, while in the present it’s just rough.

The mystery plot about a missing girl shows just how dangerous the city can be, and gives the whole novel a noir tinge. The mystery gives the novel forward momentum, driving the protagonist to go out and do things instead of wallowing in her heartbreak. It plays with the language of hardboiled investigators and femme fatales, but twists it, having women play all the roles.

Early on in the novel the protagonist acquires a gun, which she is fascinated with. Guns are an obvious phallic symbol, and one question hiding in the novel is what does it mean for a lesbian to bring a gun around?  Shulman is teasing out how to romanticize a gun in a non masculine way, what it means for a woman to hold that weapon and bring it into situations with other women. Whether guns should be romanticized is another question, but what she does in this novel uses a symbol in a profoundly different way. The gun is a weapon, and a prop, and a symbol of power. Schulman writes,

I slipped the gun into my right hand and posed, Wyatt Earp style, in the ladies’ room. I wanted to see exactly what Delores would see if I stepped in front of her one afternoon clutching that little piece of metal. Except for the mouth I looked exactly like myself, but happier somehow. And it was all because of the machine in my hand could make her shut up and listen for once.

The very act of having a gun leads to the possibility of using a gun. It doesn’t really provide security, but creates an opportunity for more violence. The gun drives the protagonist further into the mystery, allows her to operate on its level.

The protagonist’s preoccupation with the mystery helps distract her from the pain of her failed relationship. Delores has left her for someone else, and the whole world has started to fall about. Her heartbreak is everywhere and all consuming. When she puts the grip of the gun in her mouth she finds that, “it smelled like stale licorice or polished wood and it tasted like Delores.” It all goes back to Delores being gone: everything connects back to that loss. When she’s sitting alone in the bar, “Somebody played Patsy Cline on the jukebox and that made me even sadder, but in a pleasurable melancholy way, not a painful Delores-type way.” The hurt and preoccupation is present on every page. It hurts.

If we only ask for positive representations of lesbians we’ll never get books like this: nasty, mean books that ring true. Lesbians can be terrible people, can be terrible to each other, can do terrible things.

Yet, at the end, when the mystery is unraveled, there’s a man as the real villain, which isn’t surprising. As roughly as lesbians might treat each other, it’s still men who cause the most damage because they start off with the most power and influence. Schulman resists a sentimental ending, is not at all interested in any vision of sisterhood or unity. She articulates something much more subtle and desperate: that while lesbians can be terrible to each other, ultimately we need to stand together in solidarity against patriarchy and homophobia that can kill us so easily. Schulman sums it up beautifully:

I’ve trained myself to avoid all potentially unpleasant situations with men, even though I walk into them constantly with women. Once I realized women could be pretty nasty, I actually considered boys for about five minutes until I remembered they bored me very quickly, and if someone you love is going to bring tragedy into your life, you should at least be interested in them.

It’s a very honest novel. The writing is very direct, and very lovely. I love all the small details Schulman weaves in, details, observations like “Under her leather gloves were five long and polished nails on her right hand and three long polished nails on her left. The index and middle were cut, not chewed, to the cuticle.” My favorite part of the whole book might be the thought that, “The only thing that happened in the last two decades that made any sense to me at all was Patti Smith. When Patti Smith came along, even I got hip, but then she went away.” That’s just cool.