Across the Page: Lesbian Pulp


Pulp fiction holds a unique place in lesbian literature and in the hearts of many lesbian readers. This month we feature three books that represent the genre, from Ann Bannon’s classic Odd Girl Out to Mabel Maney’s The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend and Monica Nolan’s new release, Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan (Kensington Books)

Like any good pulp novel, Monica Nolan’s very funny Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary begins with two women making out in a shower. Of course, Lois Lenz and her best friend, Faye Collins, are only practicing kissing so that they can perfect the art with their boyfriends.

The two popular seniors at Walnut Grove High have their lives all worked out: They’re getting ready for the prom and graduation; in the fall they’ll attend Northridge Junior College for Girls; and after that they’ll get married and settle down in neighboring houses. Everything is going as planned when the school’s career counselor recommends Lois for an opening in the secretarial pool at the advertisement firm Sather & Stirling in Bay City.

Faye does her best to seduce Lois into staying in Walnut Grove so that the two can get married and live next door to each other where they’ll have “long afternoons when their husbands would be away at work, and they would have leisure to — Faye left the promise unspoken but it was in her eyes.” Even Lois’ mom is against the idea — why, the big city is filled with reefer, communists and white slavers!

Nonetheless, Lois decides it’s finally time to see the world outside her suburban town. A few weeks later, she arrives at the Magdalena Arms boarding house where she meets a new group of women who have more in common with her than she first appreciates. Things get interesting on Lois’ first day at work, when she skips the secretarial pool and jumps straight up the corporate ladder to work with Mrs. Pierson, a woman executive known around the office as “the Hyena.”

Lois is fantastically naïve and the perfect lens to observe the 1950s. Despite her own inclinations, she does not immediately notice that she’s surrounded by a slew of lesbians, both at home and the office. She only briefly wonders why she’s landed this position of enormous responsibility at the ad firm, and after she’s hired, she unknowingly engages in S/M role play with her boss.

But Lois doesn’t stay naïve forever. By the end, as she finally wakes up and takes stock of her surroundings, she is instrumental in solving a mystery at Sather & Stirling that involves a missing girl, blackmail, a gun, and foul play in the file room. Nolan, also the author of The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, captures the true essence and camp of lesbian pulp in this hilarious new addition to the genre.

The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend by Mabel Maney (Cleis Press)

Mabel Maney’s Nancy Clue series, which parodies the Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames mysteries, begins with The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse. In that first book, Maney introduces the sharp sleuth Nancy Clue to the naïve nurse Cherry Aimless, and the two fall in love while trying to save a group of nuns kidnapped by priests.

The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend, the second in the series, is even more entertaining and engaging. The book begins with Nancy and Cherry driving cross-country with their gang: Midge Fontaine, a handsome butch and the only voice of reason; Velma Pierce, Midge’s stylish glamour girl; and Lauren, the baby dyke with a mysterious past.

They’re on their way to River Depths, Ill., so that Nancy can confess to the murder of her father, prominent lawyer Carson Clue. (He isn’t as above-the-board as he seems.) The family’s housekeeper, Hannah, has falsely confessed to the crime (“I told that man time and time again to stay out of my kitchen while I was baking!”) in order to protect Nancy.

The road trip is interrupted at every bend and turn, but the blown tires, car accidents and faulty mechanics are the least of the gang’s problems. Even more portentous are the mysterious couple who shows up at every roadside stop, a stranger who makes several attempts to mug them, and reporters from the Wyoming Buffalo Bulletin who might blow their disguise.

Nancy is certain that all she’ll have to do to exonerate herself of is reveal her father’s true identity; her evidence is in letters she has stored at home. To keep organized, she writes a list of things she’ll have to do once they arrive in River Depths: “1. Get Father’s letters from secret hiding place; 2. Confess to killing father; 3. Pick up Hannah from prison.”

When the gang — especially Midge — declares their hesitancy about the plan, Nancy maintains her characteristic confidence: “I probably won’t really need the evidence, since the Chief will believe me based on my fine reputation alone, immediately free Hannah, and declare the shooting a case of justifiable homicide.”

The question, of course, is whether Nancy can trust the Chief, her longtime friend and colleague, and if she’ll actually find the letters once they arrive in River Depths.

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