A woman telling her own story in her own words is a powerful emotional force. Riding Fury Home by Chana Wilson packs an extra punch because we are invited to witness not only the story of the author’s life, but also of her mother Gloria’s life. The two women are so connected in so many ways; in love, in resentment, in pain and healing, but, at the deepest level, in life— life lived and shared and fought for.
Gloria, married and with one child, attempted suicide after the woman she loved left her. This was all kept a secret from her daughter until Chana was in her twenties and came out. The following years were spent rediscovering and rebuilding their mother-daughter relationship as two women, two lesbians.
Riding Fury Home is an important book for lesbian history. The main narrative covers four decades, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It shows the good, the bad and the ugly of being a lesbian in those eras, the ugly being the homophobia of the fifties, when homosexuality was considered a disease of the mind. (This facilitates an exposé of the dismal ableism mental patients endured, subjected to terrifying and dehumanizing abuse at hospitals.) The bad being the long and difficult road to recovery, and the good being the women’s lib movement of the ’70’s, and Chana and Gloria’s beautiful, successful heart healing. In the back of the book are questions that can be used for a book discussion group, and I highly recommend the book for lgbt+ groups to read together.
This is not an easy read. Because it deals with subjects like suicide, depression, anxiety, drug dependency, vertigo, homophobia, racism, mental hospitals and hospitals in general, there are some people who would be safer not reading it if mentions and descriptions of these things could trigger panic attacks and flashbacks.
I was moved to tears several times. At one point I even thought to myself that I should put the book down and walk away because I was becoming way too sad. I could not put it down, however, invested as I became in the narrative, and I stuck to it through the difficult parts. It occurs to me that while I had a choice to put the book down, Chana and Gloria had no choice but to survive the tragic circumstances that were thrust on them.
The primary theme and lesson I took away from reading about Chana’s life was that anger can be one of the most healing emotions. I have experienced this type of healing myself, but the concept never solidified for me until I read Chana’s and Gloria’s experiences. I learned many things, about lgbt history, about women’s lib history, and even learned some things about myself. I think that a huge majority of readers will be able to take away something of benefit from reading about Chana’s and Gloria’s struggles.