Danika reviews Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote

Ivan E. Coyote is one of my very favourite queer writers. When giving recommendations for les/bi/etc books, Sarah Waters and Ivan E. Coyote are at the top of the list (though their styles are pretty different). Ivan is often described as a “kitchen table storyteller,” and it’s true. Their stories read as if one of your good friends is relating an anecdote to you, if your friends are really good at telling stories. If you ever get the chance to see Ivan perform in person, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, pick up their books.

Missed Her is a collection of semi-autobiographical stories–Ivan treads the line between memoir and fiction. Some common themes run through the stories, including being queer in a small town. I find this especially interesting, because when the “It Gets Better” project was getting a lot of coverage, there was some criticism about how many of the stories talked about getting out of small towns, and how it didn’t address how rural communities can change, or the positive aspects of them, or even how constantly moving queer people out of rural environments and into urban ones just perpetuates any bigotry in hostile towns (not that anyone has an obligation to stay in a threatening environment, I want to clarify). We’re used to queer stories being set in the big city, so it’s interesting and pertinent to have another narrative. (Ivan currently lives in Vancouver, so it’s not all small town, but growing up in the Yukon made a strong impression on them.)

Ivan presents a different image of being queer in a small town. Their family was supportive, and they appreciate that the people they meet in these towns are more likely to simply ask what they’re thinking instead of skirting around the issue. They have a story set in a small town in which a bunch of men gather around so they can teach them how to properly tie a tie. They do still acknowledge the disadvantages and even dangers of some of these small towns, however, especially when they describe trying to find a rural doctor accepting of their gender presentation.

Ivan’s stories have all sorts of variety, though. There’s some heart-breaking ones and some hilarious ones, though usually it’s a bit of both. (Some topics: looking for an old-fashioned barber in Vancouver, teaching memoir-writing to seniors, repeatedly being mistaken for a gay man, stories about their family, and musings on their butch identity and the policing of the label.)

There’s not much more to say than that I highly recommend it!

Danika reviews The Long Way Home by Rachel Spangler

I haven’t read a lot of lesbian romance, and I wasn’t sure how much I would like the genre; I’ve never had any interest in the straight romance genre. Well, Rachel Spangler has made me a convert.

My favourite part of The Long Way Home is the premise. I read it while there were a lot of criticisms coming up about Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project. One of the more intriguing ones was discussing how Savage’s original video especially concentrates on this reaction to “small town mentality” and finding acceptance in a big city, and how this anti-rural sentiment not only gives small towns too little credit in their ability to be accepting and progressive, but also encourages queer people to keep draining out of small towns and heading to big cities, which only makes the situation worse. (Cities are more accepting because there are more queer people, but there are more queer people because queer people move to cities, because cities are more accepting…)

The Long Way Home tackles that anti-rural sentiment by telling the story of a woman who “escaped”, who left her small town and made a living talking about her escape story at various colleges around the country (the US), becoming a quasi-famous lesbian because of it.

But once she gets a little older, the calls stop coming for speaking arrangements: people don’t want to hear the same story anymore. Raine, as she’s known now, or Rory, as she was known in her home town, is forced to return to the place she escaped from if she wants to have a paying job. Raine/Rory comes face-to-face with the people she knew, the family she left behind, and the town she grew up in. While there she discovers the escape story she’s been telling for years may not be the only interpretation that should be drawn.

This is a romance, obviously, so Rory/Raine discovers a lot of this through an old school mate, including being introduced to a small-town queer community, something she couldn’t fathom of before. The romance is sweet and interesting, and I liked both of their characters, but it was the underlying message that really drew me in.

The only minor quibble I had with The Long Way Home was the occasional over-explaining, like this:

“Are you out of your fucking mind? I’ve spent my entire life getting away from that place. I’m Raine St. James, the one who survived.” Raine needed to remind herself that she’d made it out alive.

I’d rather the speech stood on its own, but that’s hardly noticeable. Overall, I definitely recommend it.

Have you read The Long Way Home or another of Rachel Spangler’s books? If so, what did you think of it?

Guest Lesbrarian Stefanie reviews Marthy Moody by Susan Stinson

Welcome to our first Guest Lesbrarian post! This one is by Stefanie for lesbian writer Susan Stinson’s book Martha Moody, published in 1995. She also recommends some of Stinson’s  other fiction, including Venus of Chalk and Fat Girl Dances with Rocks. Please, send in your own guest lesbrarian review!

Susan Stinson’s Martha Moody is an extraordinary and evocative book. Set in the “Old West,” it tells a complex and uneasy story of two women loving each despite their familial and community commitments. I wanted this book to keep going, never to end, so that I could stay suspended in Stinson’s poetic voice.This book is unconventional in many ways (its characterizations, its lush language, its integration of stories within stories) and seeks to fully explore how two individuals choose and are forced to act within their social and personal circumstances. A gorgeous read.

Have you read any of Susan Stinson’s books? What did you think?