My coverage of seminal trashy lesbian pulp fiction is woefully lacking. I realized that when I was researching the etymology of "butch," wondering if it could possibly have come from the character "Butch" in the classic board game "Go to the Head of the Class," because, if so, wouldn't that be the greatest thing ever? In my research, next thing I knew, I was reading the Wikipedia biography of Ann Bannon, who wrote some of the best seminal trashy lesbian pulp fiction of all time in her series of books now known as the "Beebo Brinker Chronicles."
"Oh my God!" I thought. "I've been a faker all these years! I pretend to be well-read, but my coverage of seminal trashy lesbian pulp fiction is woefully lacking! In fact, I've never read any seminal trashy lesbian pulp fiction!"
OK, maybe "seminal" was a poor word choice.
Anyway, the thing delivers the goods, baby. It's trashy, it's lesbian, it's pulp fiction, but it's also more. I mean, there's more going on. Imagine reading a Hardy Boys - where you're expecting vocabulary-building ham-handed sleuthery - and getting it - but also seeing metaphor and rhyming characters and hypocrisy and symbolism. Weird, right?
That's like here. It's hard to believe it was written in the 1950's. She's able to present a lesbian college relationship without a) judging it or b) writing with an obvious agenda where the heterosexuals are straw-man hypocrites. Characters aren't good or evil. They're confused, manipulative, understanding, bitter, loving, hypocritical, empathizable. They mean well. The most sacrificial character is a heterosexual girl; the most manipulative, selfish character is a lesbian. At the same time, none of the major characters are unlikable.
It's always a pleasant surprise when a work of art transcends the form: "Blade Runner," "Saturday Night Fever," "The Gold Rush." I've just never been caught so offguard. My expectations haven't been this upended in a novel since "Frankenstein" opened with the monster running a dogsled in the Arctic Circle.
Five stars all the way.
...Um, and "Butch" does not derive from the character in "Go to the Head of the Class." Its meaning in lesbian slang predates the game. Maybe the character in the game was named by a board-game loving lesbian. Anybody know?
This was the first of Ann Bannon's books I've read and I will definitely read more. A sweet tale of two young girls in college dealing with their feelings for each other, boys and life.
The first novel in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, the classic 1950s love stories from the Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction. An interesting read even from just the standpoint of life in the 50's.
If you have read lesbian pulp fiction from this era you know how they all end. However, Ann Bannon takes a different approach. it may not be the perfect story book ending, but it's not the tragic endings of other pulp fiction novels. I recommend this book and the four others in the series.