Al Rosenberg reviews Shoulders by Georgia Cotrell


Shoulders seems like a fictionalized memoir, but reads like a conversation with an old friend. Georgia Cotrell tells the tale of Bobbie Craword, innocent, personable lesbian, and her coming-of-age in the 1970’s. And then it tells of the fallout of all of her decisions in the 1980’s. At moments both heart-warming and anxiety-inducing, Shoulders is one of the most realistic portayals of developing sexuality I have come across.

This novel was published by Firebrand Books, an amazing short-lived lesbian and feminist book press in Ithaca, NY, in 1987 and only received a first printing, which is a shame. Cotrell herself is described on Goodreads as “a software developer and author from Austin, Texas. Her novel Shoulders was published in 1987.” That’s it, just the one book in one printing, which fits my theory that this book is more memoir than fiction.

What I find most refreshing about Shoulders is that it isn’t about the anxiety of figuring out that you’re gay. There’s no angsty self-doubt about being a lesbian, just acceptance that ladies are the prefered romantic interests.

Cotrell reveals Bobbie to us in short chapters, flashes in time. We are taken from her childhood to her teenage years to college in the first few pages. The innocence of childhood sexuality continues throughout her life in the form of romantic innocence. Most of the time Bobbie just doesn’t seem to know what she is doing. She lets her circumstances carry her in confusing and opposite directions throughout her life. I found myself forgiving her for quite a few betrayals and questionable decisions. Perhaps because I could see myself making the same “mistakes,” perhaps because I had grown to love her so dearly.

She meets, loves, befriends such a multitude of women. There are so, so many distinct female characters in this book. That by itself was fascinating and healing and wonderful. Early on in her life she meets Rachel, her dance instructor, who helps her learn about herself. In college she meets the kinds of energetic, life-changing women intellectual environments can offer you. And later in life she find Miriam, who changed my life just by imagining that someone like that might actually exist.

Like a conversation with a close, old friend, Cotrell frankly discusses heartbreak, sex, dildos, jobs that destroy you and work that lifts you up. But mostly she writes about women, in all ages, shapes and sizes. The end of Shoulders had me wishing Cotrell had continued to write, that Firebrand Books had continued to publish. Instead I’ll just reread Bobbie’s life one more time.

Al Rosenberg: Al is Games Section Editor of She loves lesbians, lesbians in literature, and the perfect mystery novel. Currently in Chicago working on her tattoo collection.


Al Rosenberg reviews It’s Complicated by AJ Adaire


Tori works at the hospital where her lover, Liz, has been in a coma and on life support for the last few years. Tori spends her days, almost all of them, working and sitting with Liz. Her only friend is a nurse named MJ. Then enters Bev. This slightly older woman takes an immediate liking to Tori after a very cute meet-cute. She’s beautiful, athletic, intelligent, and wealthy. But Tori can’t leave Liz, even knowing there’s no hope of her recovering. Thus begins a very sexually tense and overwrought friendship.

Tori and Bev begin to spend a lot of time together. More time than the worst lesbian joke would have you believe lesbians spend together. They go biking, the go hiking, they make meals together and for each other. They set up their best friends with each other, who end up moving even faster than the two main characters. And they talk. They talk incessantly. They talk about their feelings, and their attraction to each other, and how poor Liz is in the way of them being together. They talk until they kill the very chance for subtle tension or believable attraction for the reader.

The narrative is reiterated every new conversation. Tori talks to her parents about it, to her therapist about it, to her best friend about it. Yet it only becomes more confusing why Tori can’t work on letting go of Liz, who she accepts as having died long ago, and start working on a relationship with Bev. A relationship that is already happening in all but name. Tori takes Bev to her parents place where they are a little farther away from Liz and deeper into the constant feelings processing with each other.

Bev has her own dark, sad background, but not her own voice. The words that are attributed to her could easily have come out of Tori’s mouth. The therapist is another series of conversations that give Bev room to tell the reader absolutely everything that she is thinking and feeling. The only villains in the story are Liz’s entirely absent homophobic parents, and Tori’s own self-doubt. Only one of these is conquered.

The tagline on Adaire’s site is “Let me tell you a story with a happy ending,” and that rings true here as well as her other works. This is not a great romance, but it is a lesson in being overly honest and upfront with your feelings.