Rebecca reviews of Love on the Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila

Love on The Road 2013 edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila is an anthology of twelve stories depicting love and travel in diverse locations like India, Alaska, and New York. I really wanted to enjoy this collection because it seemed like a promising and fun concept. However, I just couldn’t get into several of the stories at all. I loved Doreen E. Massey’s “The Upside Down Trees” and Kimberly Cawthon’s “Cindy in Manhattan” which are really well-written with fascinating and layered characters. However, a few of the other pieces suffer from dull or stereotypical characters and pointlessly meandering plots. There are a few LGBTQ characters featured in the stories but they are side characters. However, there are two stories where women’s romantic relationships with women are featured.

Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” is well-written and interesting. The author labels her piece as “seventy percent non-fiction.” The female protagonist is instantly attracted to the titular girl with the egg-shaped face, Shilpi, when they meet on a bus while travelling to the Jaipur Literature Festival. The main character is well-crafted and her pining for the object of her affection is relatable. The brief interactions between Shilpi and the narrator are poignant and painfully realistic. However, the narrator’s crush soon takes an invasive turn. She goes from entertaining harmless fantasies in her head to Facebook stalking and she even obtains personal information about Shilpi and follows her to another city. Her intrusive actions are disturbing but you cannot help but feel empathy for the narrator who has been unlucky in love and is entranced by her fantasies. Although the melancholy ending may disappoint some readers, I believe that it is a satisfying and organic conclusion.

Naima Lynch’s fictional work “All That You Forgot to See” takes readers from New York City to Egypt with Althea, a lonely middle-aged woman who is sleepwalking her way through life. Although she displays racist and xenophobic behaviour, the story’s gently optimistic ending indicates that there may be some hope for Althea. However, her repression and her inability to connect with people as well as her sad and stagnant life are achingly realistic. Lynch makes a seemingly unrelatable character all too human. Althea’s best friend, Lorraine, is the heart of this story and the nuances of their relationship are poignant and well-developed. Lynch does not assign labels to the women and, without giving too much away, the characters and the nature of their relationship are surprising but still seem true to life.

If you’re looking for a lot of LGBTQ characters and stories, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you like travel anthologies, it is a decent one time read with several well-crafted gems sprinkled throughout. I would definitely reread Mohita Nagpal’s “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face” and Naima Lynch’s “All That You Forgot to See.”

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

Elinor reviews The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I have long-standing love for Ariel Levy’s work, so I was eager to read her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. For those who’ve read her essay “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” about her miscarriage at 19 weeks pregnant, you have some idea what you’ll be getting in this book. Essentially, it’s a brutally sad story told gorgeously. The memoir gives context to Levy’s loss of her pregnancy, marriage, and home, all within a single month, and delves into her life before, during and after this central tragedy.

Much of the book explores Levy’s adventures as a successful writer, interviewing fascinating people all over the world, and how her work informed her ideas about gender, family, work, queerness, marriage, and a meaningful life. Alongside this is the story of Levy’s personal life, from a childhood spent witnessing her mother’s long-term affair and the dissolution of her parent’s marriage, to dating men and women as an adult. When Levy falls in love with and marries a woman before such a marriage was legally recognized, you can feel the heady excitement. Together the pair bought a home and wrestled with question when and how to become parents. Though Levy’s marriage was loving, it was complicated by Levy’s destructive affair with a creepy ex and her spouse’s increasingly serious drinking problem. Still, when they decide to have a child after many years together, she believes that they have things under control, that they’d weathered storms and gotten bad behavior out of their systems. Then the unthinkable happens and the story takes a turn Levy never expected.

Levy resists the cultural rules for women throughout her life, managing to have brilliant ambition, professional success, lust, love, adventure and a rich domestic life. But those are only a superficial rejection of the “rules” that the title references. This memoir rejects tidy lessons, platitudes, and the idea that loss is avoidable. Often in stories like Levy’s, the unstated rule is that it all works out in the end, that there’s a silver lining, or that everything happens for some ultimately rewarding cosmic reason. Levy refuses to pretty up her pain or to resolve the story neatly. Here, there is no happy ending. In fact, the book ends ambiguously, with Levy stepping out into an uncertain future.

The rawness and incredible writing draw you in, and leave you unsettled. You might want to line up something soothing after this. I was very glad I didn’t read it until after my child was born, because if I’d been pregnant or trying to get pregnant I would have been an anxious wreck reading this book. Having said that, I still highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating, honest, unique book.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Danika reviews Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger, as the subtitle states, a memoir of a body. It follows Roxane Gay’s journey with her body, from when she was a kid to her present day, and how the trauma in her life has played out over her body. This is dark, sometimes brutal book. It talks frankly about her rape as a child and how she has lived with that experience for the rest of her life. It talks about the way our society views fat bodies, how that fatphobia affects her in so many ways. It talks about her disordered eating, the unhealthy relationships she’s had (as well as the healthy ones). The subject matter is intense.

Despite this, I ended up finishing Hunger much more quickly than I had anticipated. Gay writes in an approachable, casual style most of the time, as if she’s having a conversation with you. The chapters are very short–often just a few pages. And her writing is so compelling. Whether she’s talking about fat acceptance as a movement or discussing her dating life, I was completely pulled in.

She includes a lot of nuanced, complicated looks at subjects she returned to repeatedly. Often, she’d write “I don’t know why ___. Or I do.” (“I don’t know how I let it get this bad. Or I do.”) Because that’s how we look at our own lives. It seems completely random, out of our control–or it’s a concrete narrative, every step leading inexorably to the next. We don’t know why we do things (but we do). She talks about how she appreciates fat activism, body positivity, and the health at every size movement, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to lose weight–that even the representation of fat bodies in these movements don’t represent people at her size and the struggles that she has with her body.

I love Roxane Gay’s writing even when I’m disagreeing with her, and I felt like Hunger was the strongest work I’ve read by her. I have enjoyed every book I’ve read by her, but I really felt affected by this one. It’s definitely not as big a focus as some of the other themes going on, but there is queer content in Hunger. Roxane Gay is bisexual, and she talks about her coming out as well as some of her relationships with women.

I rated this 5 stars, and it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. I’d definitely recommend it, as long as you are prepared for the discussion of rape, disordered eating, and negative body image.

Julie Thompson reviews Butch Lesbians of the 20s 30s and 40s: Coloring Book edited by Avery Cassell and Jon Macy, Foreword by Sasha T. Golberg

From the publisher of The Queer Heroes Coloring Book (featuring a delightfully bedecked Edward Gorey on the cover) comes Butch Lesbians of the 20s 30s and 40s: Coloring Book, a collection of performers, mechanics, millionaires, and unknowns, from the 1920s through the 1940s. Nineteen artists, including Maia Kobabe (Louise), Avery Cassell, and Jon Macy (X Garage), bring these figures to life. The expressive takes on famous photographs and persons allow you to fill in each image with your own technicolor sensibilities, as well as fill in gaps in your own knowledge of queer history. The more time you spend with the woman or women on the page, carefully selecting just the right shade of purple for a suit jacket, the more time you end up spending thinking about who it is you’re looking at. Who is this defiant individual gazing back at me from a mugshot? What does it mean to find community in a public place, yet remain anonymous to history? I love the assortment of intimate moments between couples; the affability and charm exuded in solo portraits, coming across more as a conversation between the subject and the viewer; and the moments that project calm or exhilaration, and everything emotion in between. In the foreword, Sasha T. Goldberg, offers up her thoughts on butch identity and history. Goldberg acknowledges that the lens of experience and parameters through which she sees this collection and the identities of its subjects, may differ from yours.

Biographies of known persons and historical context for unknown persons, found at the back of the book, provide this collection with extra heft. A few of the images were familiar to me during my own readings of the eras covered here, such as thrill seeking heiress Joe Carstairs and the X Garage she ran with friends following WWI; night club performers, Gladys Bentley and Buddy Kent; and writers Djuna Barnes, Willa Cather, and Radclyffe Hall. There are a few historical figures that I’m unsure about, though, regarding their inclusion as butch lesbians. For instance, I haven’t found information about Bessie Coleman’s sexual preferences, though I admit I don’t know much about her aside from tales of her aviation prowess. The collection could also benefit from the addition of a book list for further reading. Readers and colorists will better connect with the writers’ and artists’ intentions of honoring these women.

I had a lot of fun (and plenty of hand cramps and that red indent on my ring finger) coloring in Louise and the X Garage crew. Coloring books for adults are seeing a surge in renewed interest, popping up as library programs, meditative exercises, and small gatherings. Does your book club need an excuse to spend afternoons coloring and discussing art and history? The end of the coloring book includes three discussion questions from Ajuan Mance about gender, how artistic visions influence a viewer’s interpretation.

I’ve included a list of titles if you’d like to learn more about these women’s lives or want a more general context of what life was like for queer people during the 1920s-1940s. The list is by no mean comprehensive and the asterisked titles reside on my TBR shelf. You can help grow this list by adding suggestions in the comments below.

Further Reading:

Rebecca reviews Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin

The 2015 non-fiction collection Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South edited by Connie Griffin is interesting and moving but sadly not very diverse. The book focuses on the coming out experiences of Southern lesbian, queer-identified, gay, and transgender people. The book’s unique title is inherently Southern. It comes from the chant that young Southerners use to spell Mississippi. These sixteen first-person essays chronicle experiences which range from both mundane and extraordinary to hopeful and devastating. These deeply personal narratives examine first love, gender identity and performance, homophobia, finally learning the language to describe themselves, belonging, and death.

The collection includes several noteworthy stories from lesbian perspectives. Stephanie Woolley-Larrea’s “Straight as Florida’s Turnpike” is an interesting and well-written narrative which recounts the author’s exploration of her identity and her journey to become a mother. She also recalls her search for a community and a sense of belonging. Woolley-Larrea’s relatable journey to understand her identity and sexuality even includes her unsuccessful attempts to adopt different lesbian personalities including ‘Nature Lesbian’ and ‘Activist Lesbian.’ In an endearing touch, the narrative includes the author’s conversation about marriage with her young triplets.

Susan L. Benton’s “The Other Side of the Net” is a unique and inspirational essay. She details her life as a sorority girl which is at first fulfilling and happy because she finally feels that she belongs. She even has a secret romance with a fellow sorority sister. However, Benton is soon outed and kicked out of her sorority. Despite these devastating setbacks, she emerges victorious in academia and on the sports field as she triumphs over her former sorority sisters in an important college volleyball match.

Another notable essay is Merril Mushroom’s informative and disturbing “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” which highlights the horrors experienced by lesbians and gay men in South Florida. She carefully captures the fear and hysteria during the late 1950s as she recalls how gay people were hounded. Mushroom recounts newspapers gleefully outing people and publicly revealing their personal information. The author deftly combines historical events with personal memories of the era as she also recollects her experiences of surviving during this dangerous time. She even briefly pretends to be straight to escape a detective who was seeking to expose gay people. She also remembers police officers harassing and arresting people at gay clubs and the gay beach. Mushroom’s essay is an unforgettable and important read. Although the incidents are horrifying, it is vital that readers learn about these tragedies and injustices.

While I did enjoy many of the narratives in this collection, I was extremely disappointed with the lack of narratives from people of colour. Although the book’s editor, Connie Griffin, briefly acknowledges the collection’s glaring lack of diversity, she does not really address it. While the essays do encompass a variety of experiences and readers of different backgrounds and sexualities may find elements to relate to, this collection is overwhelmingly white. Therefore, it misses the abundant opportunities to explore the rich intersections of sexuality, race and gender.

“Ben’s Eyes” by Louie Crew is the only piece which represents a gay African-American’s experience. This engaging and well-detailed narrative follows young Ernest Clay as he discovers his sexuality with his older cousin, Ben while at his grandmother’s house in Georgia. The essay provides an invaluable look into the lives of African-American people in the South. It also examines strong family dynamics and debunks negative stereotypes of Southern African-American people, especially with regards to homosexuality. However, this piece is written by a white man. Although Crew is Clay’s husband and the essay is sensitively written, it is sad that this collection’s only representation of black people has been presented to readers by a white man.

James Villanueva’s “The Gathering” is another notable essay which is well-crafted and intensely moving. The narrative focuses on a family party for a gay man who is dying of AIDS. Villanueva also recalls his own coming out journey and he examines the complexities of family, death, and identity. His interactions with his family and especially with his sick Tío Jacob are touching and optimistic. Villanueva’s piece is a little lengthy but it is not noticeable because his story is so rich and fascinating. The essay’s inclusion of aspects of the author’s Mexican culture is a welcome addition as it provides some much-needed variety in this collection.

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South contains many original narratives which are poignant and eloquently written. While these essays do not hesitate to recall the loneliness and pain associated with being different and coming out, there are instances of optimism, love and acceptance. However, the book is not a casual or easy read. The essays are lengthy and quite dense because they confront heavy themes like death, identity, and religion. There are also instances of homophobia and violence so readers sensitive to these issues should be vigilant. While I did enjoy the collection, the lack of representation of and from people of colour was disturbing. The book claims to represent a cross-section of Southerners but the narratives are almost exclusively white. I would have liked to see a variety of experiences and voices.

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

Rebecca Cave reviews For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries by Fay Jacobs

Cover of For Frying Out Loud by Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs’ 2010 For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is a hilarious, relatable and wonderfully quick read. The book is a collection of Jacobs’ columns from 2007 to 2010. Through these witty and concise columns, readers follow Jacobs’ life with her partner, Bonnie, and their ever-present Schnauzers in Rehoboth Beach, a small town in Delaware. Her writing also chronicles her travels throughout North America. There is also a healthy dose of political and social commentary as she examines some of the major events which occurred from 2007 to 2010, commenting on everything from the overzealous Vuvuzela trend to acerbically confronting General Peter Pace’s homophobic remarks about gay people in the military.

This book is undoubtedly of gay interest as Jacobs is an out and proud lesbian and she faithfully incorporates this part of her identity into almost every column. She also explores the big issues affecting the community like gay marriage, gay rights, and gay culture. She educates readers on aspects of gay history as she writes about important figures of the American LGBT movement like the late Barbara Gittings. She even dedicates a column to the Equality march. Her writings on these serious topics are not didactic or severe. Instead, with her signature brand of humour and casual writing style, Jacobs imbues her stories with empathy and personality while also educating readers on gay history. She honours the achievements of these departed pioneers and recounts her personal memories associated with these women. She also notes her own experiences at Equality marches, reminding readers of the sombre nature and history of these events but, at the same time, her writing is optimistic while also being appropriately and tastefully humorous.

Jacobs’ columns strike an even balance between the important and the ordinary as she also finds humour aplenty in chronicling everyday life. Her writings are chock-full of laugh-out-loud incidents. Her road trip mishap with the “bitch on the dashboard” (also known as the GPS Navigation System) who may or may not be out to get her and a cat meowing happy birthday to her over the phone are just some of her life stories which are too funny to be missed. The diverse range of subjects that she explores ensures that readers will always find something to relate to. Jacobs’ writing style is light and conversational, making her columns an easy read. Her language is simple and personal, deftly drawing readers into the madness that is her life. Most importantly, Jacobs exhibits a refreshing brand of humour which neatly avoids being mean-spirited or rude but which is good-naturedly funny and sincere.

For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is divided into four sections with each division dedicated to a year’s worth of columns. Some of Jacobs’ more interesting 2007 columns focus on the culture of Rehoboth Beach (apparently, there’s an infamous Delaware State Fair Duck Drop), the difficulties of travel in a post 9/11 America, gay culture, and the struggle for equality for gay people. Notable highlights from her 2008 columns include numerous travel adventures like a memorable all-gay women cruise (which was as fantastic as it sounds) and Jacobs’ attempts at interacting with social media. 2009 finds Jacobs hilariously navigating Wii and Twitter and her misadventures in puppysitting. She even dedicates an informative segment to the fascinating and lengthy gay history of Rehoboth Beach. The book’s final section encompasses Jacobs’ 2010 columns. Some of these more memorable moments include Jacobs and the family being snowed in, a DIY home improvement project gone disastrously wrong and several RV trips filled with food, adventure, and a lot of laughs.

Fay Jacobs’ 2010 book For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries is a light and funny read. Although Jacobs’ earlier columns were written a decade ago and it may be tempting to see them as outdated, her writing is relatable and extremely applicable as many of the issues that she addresses have not gone away. Jacobs explores important LGBT issues and examines aspects of gay history while also finding the humour in everyday life. Her witty and unique sense of humour ensures that her columns are delightful reads. This book is perfect for readers who want to be both educated and entertained while enjoying an easy and good-naturedly funny read.

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

Danika reviews The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ash Hardell

Note: This was published under the name “Ashley Mardell,” but the author has since changed her name to “Ash Hardell,” so that’s what I’m using here.

What a useful, thoughtfully considered book. The ABC’s of LGBT+ is an introduction to a long list of LGBTQIA+ identifiers and terminology. This covers a huge range of labels. I am someone who’s been in queer communities online (and offline) for about 10 years, and I feel like I’m pretty well-read in LGBTQIA+ topics, especially current use, but I encountered quite a few words I didn’t recognize, which was exciting!

My favourite thing about this book, though, is that it is almost entirely people representing their own identities. Hardell has gathered a huge amount of contributors, all writing about their own labels. On top of that, Hardell has gathered a lot of great, knowledgeable people representing different letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym to edit and proofread the book. This makes for definitions that are obviously very well thought out, and tailored to be inclusive and allow for the many nuances that this conversation introduces. Hardell even includes a few discussions between different readers about the intricacies of some of the more thorny topics brought up–how these words might be used, or how they might be offensive.

If this sounds academic and dense, I’m completely misrepresenting it! Although I learned new words here, it’s also written to be very accessible to people who are new to learning queer terminology. It’s a lot of personal essays, and even the definitions attempt to be easy-to-read. There are also tons of colourful illustrations included, as well as photos of contributors.

I think this would be such an awesome book to have in school libraries, GSAs, public libraries—any place where people are questioning their identities! This could be hugely affirming for lots of people, especially since so many identities are accompanied by personal stories by people who share that identity. This way, people can not only find a label that might speak to them, they can also, at the same time, find representation of that label! And these essays are accompanied by links to those people’s videos, blogs, and various online endeavors, so anyone interested can find out more.

I did have some minor complaints. One is some minor typos and page formatting. The other is all the bit.ly links included in the footnotes. I love the idea! Seeing the videos and online lives of the people linked would be amazing! The problem is, even though they’re short links, it’s just not conducive to the experience of reading a book to put it down, pull out your laptop, and carefully type out the link as printed.

What might be a good solution is having a website that you can go to that has all the links, sorted as they appear in the book. So after reading Chapter 1, you can go the website and click through all the links and embedded videos that were mentioned in that chapter!

That’s just me getting excited about a way to make this book even better, though. It’s already an excellent text. I would highly recommend it for any school, library, or any other place where people might be questioning their sexual, romantic, or gender identities. I was impressed!

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Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker, illustrated by Julia Scheele

When I picked up Queer: A Graphic History, I was expecting a pretty short, easy read. Queer history! In a graphic format! I was surprised, then, to realize that this is not just queer history as in LGBTQ history, but queer as in queer theory, which is a whole different ball game.

I took queer theory in university years ago, and I had a complicated relationship with it (appropriately). Most of the time I felt like I was totally over my head, but I actually did okay in the course. I also found a lot of the ideas intellectually stimulating, but I felt like they had little use in the real world. I was especially annoyed at how little queer theory seemed to have to do with queer people. Especially when my teacher scoffed at people identifying as queer, because queer as defined in queer theory is not something you could ever achieve, at least not all of the time.

So this ended up being much better and more interesting than the book I thought I was picking up would have been. It served as a refresher for some of the concepts I’d been introduced to years ago, but it also brought up a lot of ideas I hadn’t heard about. Although sometimes it got a little intimidating, I think overall it did a great job in introducing a very dense, complex, sometimes incomprehensible subject.

I also found that a lot of the discussions at the heart of queer theory resonate with me a lot more than they did years ago. This book talked about the dangers of identity politics, and how many possibilities open up when we discuss queer/LGBTQ issues as things people do, instead of what people fundamentally are. This emphasis on actions, and on not limiting people in categories seemed a whole lot more literal and relevant as someone who recently had to change how I identify after experiencing sexual fluidity.

This is just an introduction to queer theory and queer studies, so a lot of things are just touched on (like asexuality and crip studies), but I think it managed to be pretty thorough for the restrictions. It also addresses some of the criticisms of queer theory, especially its failure to incorporate race and other intersectionality.

I wish this had been around when I was first learning about queer theory and felt completely lost! This is a great introduction. If you’re at all interested in queer theory, especially if other texts have seemed intimidating, this is a great one to pick up! I think other queer theory texts will seem much more comprehensible once you’ve gotten the basics from Queer: A Graphic History.

If you like what we do here at the Lesbrary, support us on Patreon for $2 or more a month and be entered into monthly book giveaways!  Or buy us a coffee on ko-fi if you’re generous!

 

Julie Thompson reviews A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout

“I expect our letters to be someday public property, and, though I write with little self-consciousness about being overheard at some future date, talking intermittently to you and to myself, it seems to me what has concerned us is richly human and significantly focused on the concerns of our time and our tribe.” – Jane Rule to Rick Bébout, August 2, 1989 (Intro, xiii)

Some of the most powerful love stories occur between friends. I have always longed for a bosom buddy, someone who would stand by my side fending off the zombie apocalypse and navigating ethical dilemmas. A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout edited by Marilyn R. Schuster, presents fourteen years (1981-1995) of correspondence between Jane Rule to Rick Bébout, two such friends. Margaret Atwood, a longtime friend of Jane and her partner, Helen Sonthoff, penned the foreword and is mentioned with affection in the letters.

Jane Rule (1931-2007) was an author and social commentator, a tidy summation of the innumerable roles and contributions she made to the Arts and LGBT+ community. Among her novels, she is perhaps best known for her 1964 romance, The Desert of the Heart (later produced as the 1985 film, Desert Hearts). Rule emigrated with Sonthoff from the United States in the 1950s and made their home in Galiano, British Columbia.

Rick Bébout (1950-2009) wrote prolifically for The Body Politic (TBP) (a Toronto-based publication written for LGBT+ readers, on social issues and culture) and contributed to other publications, as well; tirelessly advocated for the rights and respect of queer folks. He assembled through AIDS education materials for the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and the Hassle Free Clinic, among others. A fellow American expatriate, Bébout moved to Canada during the Vietnam War and later gained Canadian citizenship.

Rule’s and Bébout’s relationship began as that of writer and editor, when she submitted articles and pieces for her column, “So’s Your Grandmother”, to TBP. As managing editor, Bébout lived and breathed the magazine; the ebb and flow of his life was dictated by the publication cycle. He juggled multiple hats and personalities at TBP. Over the years, a deep friendship developed. Topics they discussed run the gamut, including racism, same-sex marriage, violence against women, freedom of expression, and the effect of fantasy on behavior.

Rule and Bébout weathered the heartbreaks of losing friends to AIDS, the frustration in fighting for equal dissemination of health information and access to health care, career changes, and more. They offered strength, solace, and safe space. More than once, Rule and Sonthoff bought Bébout round-trip plane tickets to Galiano Island, where he could relax at their home and elsewhere on the West Coast of Canada. Subtle clues about the evolution of their relationship manifests in subtle ways, such as how they sign-off their letters. The transition of Rick’s sign-offs from the semi-formal “sincerely” (1981) to the more companionable “love” (1985), for example, shows a shift of sentiment.

It’s not only the sweeping scope of events and issues, but the more mundane, everyday pleasures of life, that draw me into their story: Helen and Jane reading aloud to each other at night; swimming at a community pool; and Rick meeting and making friends at gay bars in Toronto. Between the two writers, they show the joys and challenges of rural and city lives.

“We die bravely and well, so many of us, giving all the way to the end – and those of us left mourning hold to that and cherish it and grow from it. But dammit, the end is too soon, and children born today will never know things they might have known if the end were not so soon for so many of us. That’s my rage, that’s what my grief is for: what’s lost.” —Rick Bébout, 1988 (Introduction, xxv).

Rule and Bébout were cognizant of the potential posterity of their letters, given their high visibility within the Arts and LGBT+ community. When Schuster approached them with her idea of publishing the letters, they not only approved, but facilitated access to materials in various formats. Headnotes and endnotes for each chapter (how I refer to sections encompassing a calendar year) enrich the two friends’ discussions. A “Dramatis Personae” section details persons of note found in the letters. It is also worth noting the immensity of Schuster’s project. Her skilled editing chiseled 2,700 pages of correspondence into a coherent and engaging volume representing twenty-five percent of the original total.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to “watch” their friendship grow. I highly recommend A Queer Love Story for folks interested in LGBT+ history and fans of Jane rule, in particular. If you want to learn more about Jane Rule and view her through the autobiographical lens, check out her posthumously published memoir, Taking My Life  (2011), reviewed last year by Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. You can learn more about Rick Bébout via his website, http://www.rbebout.com/. A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout is available for purchase on May 1, 2017.

Page numbers refer to the uncorrected proof received from the University of British Columbia Press and are subject to change at time of publication.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Julie Thompson reviews Undercover Girl: The Lesbian Informant Who Helped the FBI Bring Down the Communist Party by Lisa E. Davis

undercover-girl

Undercover Girl chronicles the exploits of Angela Calomiris, an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 1940s. An otherwise easy-to-miss figure in history, author Lisa E. Davis goes behind-the-scenes to reveal a more complex story of Calomiris’s life. The depiction of her impoverished childhood in New York through her fifteen minutes of fame as a witness for the prosecution during the Smith Act trials of 1949, and how it clashed with the version that Calomiris presented to the press, is fascinating. Author Lisa E. Davis also explores the divisive nature of Red Scare tactics, the ways in which it pitted groups against each other, and promoted fear, xenophobia, racism, and homophobia. This provides essential context for Calomiris’s behavior and how her fabrications were positively received by mainstream American citizens, the press, and government agencies. Davis’s appraisal of her subject is critical and well-researched.

The Photo League (TPL, 1936-1951), a club focused on capturing the lives of ordinary folks, was Angela’s primary target during her time as an FBI informant. TPL drew the attention and ire of the FBI due to its advertisement of club classes in The Daily Worker, a newspaper of the Communist Party USA, and its photographs chronicling New York City life, which included images of African-Americans. Her bread and butter income came from divulging names and activities, as well as her own amateur photographs, of the TPL to the FBI. A closeted lesbian, Calomiris played up her public image as an “All-American girl” (read: America first, heterosexual). As Davis delves into Calomiris’s appearances in the media and on the witness stand, contradictory information proves challenging to untangle. Readers are treated to an epilogue of the informant’s life after the trial. Did she attain wealth and lasting fame, as some of her fellow informants did licensing their stories in film and television? Did her duplicitous and fabulist tendencies continue to isolate her from friends and community?

Davis draws from de-classified FBI reports available through the Freedom of Information Act; oral interviews with people who knew Calomiris during the 1940s-1950s; archival collections; film, radio, scripts, and sound recordings; newspaper and journal articles; theses; and books. All of these materials enrich the narrative and provide the work with a credibility lacking in its subject’s own life. Calomiris’s keen desire for fame and fortune is perhaps one reason she meticulously preserved her extensive collection of newspaper and magazine articles, correspondence, and other ephemera. The large collection was ultimately bestowed, through the executrix of her estate, to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.

An engrossing tale for researchers, history buffs, and casual readers alike. Undercover Girl: The Lesbian Informant Who Helped the FBI Bring Down the Communist Party is slated for release in May 2017.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)