Though books by and for queer women are not exactly ubiquitous, this year we managed to find 36 titles worth reading. And, as many of you have let us know, there are even more out there to consider.
Whether you’re looking for a good book for yourself or one to give as a present during the holidays, here are a few must-haves from the year’s offerings: Away by Amy Bloom, Biting the Apple by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, and Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan by June Jordan.
Away by Amy Bloom (Random House)
Bloom’s latest novel, Away, is the story of Lillian Leyb, a young woman banished from her homeland after her parents, husband and daughter are killed in a Russian pogrom.
The book begins with a declaration: "It is always like this: The best parties are made by people in trouble." Lillian’s troubles, it turns out, have only just begun when she arrives at her cousin’s doorstep on New York’s Lower East Side.
Though consumed by memories of her family and their tragic deaths, Lillian is in survival mode. As mistress to both the son (who happens to be gay) and father of a prominent New York family, she quickly figures out how to take care of herself in this New World. In order to do so, Lillian has to reinvent herself: "She was a daughter, she was a wife, she was a mother. She was not acting like an anything then."
However, just as she finally settles in, Lillian hears from another cousin that her daughter, Sofia, survived and was adopted by a family who fled to Siberia. Everyone warns Lillian not to trust her cousin’s report, and Lillian certainly has her doubts. But the idea of reuniting with Sofia is far too great to disregard: "Not that she is mine. That I am hers."
So Lillian sets out on the long journey home, back to the Old World. The obvious questions in Away are whether Lillian will make it to Siberia, and then if she will find her daughter once she arrives.
Meanwhile, Lillian’s past continues to haunt her, and her dreams of the pogrom are vivid: "She rubs her eyes and feels the strings of blood that were closing her lids. They roll down her cheeks and into her mouth, solid bits of blood, hard as peppercorns, softening on her tongue."
Bloom infuses Lillian’s present circumstances with equal tension. It is the early 1920s, and the voyage from New York City to Siberia along the Telegraph Trail is far from easy. In addition to finding friendship and love, Lillian encounters prostitution, thievery and murder on her journey. And she meets a host of desperate characters who either hinder or help her.
First, a Seattle prostitute named Gumdrop involves Lillian in a plan to seek revenge on her pilfering pimp, Snooky Salt. Then Arthur Gilpin (the "only constable" in Prince Rupert, British Columbia) lands Lillian in the Hazelton Agrarian Work Center for Women, where she soon takes comfort in the arms of the new girl, "Chinky."
Back on the trail again, Lillian stumbles upon a cabin filled with young children whose mother’s decomposing body lies in the snowy backyard. And, finally, she meets John Bishop, a fellow exile who may be the first person to understand Lillian’s plight.
Amy Bloom is the bisexual author of several books, including A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Love Invents Us and, my personal favorite, Come to Me (which is also one of Jenny Schecter‘s favorites, but don’t let that scare you off).
Away is a profoundly beautiful and moving addition to Bloom’s already impressive body of work. A solid epic in hardcover, it is also the perfect gift.
Biting the Apple by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (Carroll & Graf)
Eve Glass, former Olympic runner and now promising author of two motivational books, is ripe with potential. She is beautiful, smart, athletic and charming. There’s a glow about her that none of the other characters in Bledsoe’s brilliant new novel seem able to resist.
But Eve’s aura is misleading. It does not reflect her troubled childhood, her unrelenting need to be taken care of and nurtured, her predilection for shoplifting, and her unrequited love for a poet who lives clear across the country.
Eve’s reality differs sharply from the stories of triumph, honor and beauty that fill her latest motivational book, If Grace is the Goal. In alternating points of view, Biting the Apple explores what happens when the polish protecting Eve’s image begins to chip.
The character most insistent on maintaining Eve’s facade is Nick Capelli, her ex of many titles (husband, coach and manager). Nick has his own problems, including his fiancée, Judith, whom he "loves" despite his minor problem with fidelity. Though his relationship with Eve is not sexual, and never really was, Judith forces him to stop coddling her and serving as her "everything."
Eventually, Nick gives up the reins and hires Alissa Smith as Eve’s marketing director. But the job’s easier said than done, especially for Alissa, whose previous clients have mainly been businessmen who were easily manipulated and actually cared about their public image.