Across the Page: Short Stories and Lilac Mines

This month’s Across the Page features two books to check out this summer: Lilac Mines, by Cheryl Klein (Manic D Press) and Best Lesbian Love Stories 2009, edited by Simone Thorne (Alyson Books); and a preview of the fall release This One’s Going to Last Forever by Nairne Holtz (Insomniac Press).

Lilac Mines by Cheryl Klein (Manic D Press)

Cheryl Klein’s debut novel Lilac Mines is a story about community, family, identity and secrets.

Shortly after Felix Ketay’s girlfriend Eva left to tour Europe with a new woman, Felix was attacked on the gay friendly streets of West Hollywood. When she decides to take respite at her lesbian aunt Anna Lisa’s house in the small town of Lilac Mines, she is both raw and exhausted.

But Anna Lisa is not the “lesbian fairy god mother” Felix imagined would help her through her heartache over Eva and her fear and anger over the attack. Instead, she finds an “old school lesbian” who, Felix is quick to assume, is simultaneously closeted on the outside and restricted by dated butch/ femme standards on the inside.

Felix is not entirely wrong, but she’s not entirely right, either. Anna Lisa has a complicated past, one that Klein deftly interweaves with Felix’s present. When Anna Lisa first moved to Lilac Mines in the sixties she was a teenager running away from home. It was then that she discovered she was a lesbian, was renamed the more butch Al, and brought into a community of women that included her lover Meg.

Al begins to see the stress and danger of living her life as a lesbian at the same time she learns that her father is ill. When she returns to her childhood home she makes a difficult decision that affects all of the women that have become her new family, particularly Meg. Years later, it takes a tragedy to bring Al back to Lilac Falls, though she is still haunted by the past.

On the other hand, Lilac Ambrose, the sixteen year old who went missing at the mine back in 1899 and the town’s namesake, haunts Felix. At first Felix relates to the case of the missing girl because of her own recent experience with violence.

But Felix’s investigation soon turns up the name of another girl, Calla, who also went missing at the same time. As Felix attempts to link the stories of Lilac and Calla, she and her aunt also begin to connect and each finds a path toward healing. 

Lilac Mine is a thoughtful and compelling story and mystery that offers plenty of surprises. Cheryl Klein is also the author of the short story collection The Commuters, which won the Ben Reitman Award from City Works Press.

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