A sorority girl falls for her
dazzlingly pretty roommate but after a whirlwind romance, ends up
dumped by graduation day. The girl decides to move to New York City in
hopes of leaving the pain behind, only to be bored at her office job
during the day and spend her nights embroiled in a steamy relationship
with a sexy, snarly butch girl.
Plenty of women can tell
similar tales of young heartbreak and the emotional highs and hazards
of trying to make it as a little lesbian in a big city, which is why
its so fascinating and fun to read the same old story play out in the
five books by Ann Bannon.
The books make up what is known popularly as the Beebo Brinker
Chronicles, and were written decades before today’s baby dykes were
even a troublesome glimmer in anyone’s eye.
(known for its annual “Best” erotica series) began re-releasing classic
paperback titles in 2004. The books featured lurid and tantalizing
stories of outcast gay and lesbian love and sexual adventure, and Cleis
reinstated the fabulously lurid and tantalizing cover art to match.
In contrast to other classic lesbian pulp books like Spring Fire
by Vin Packer (also available from Cleis Press), the five Beebo Brinker
books exchange the typically tragic end that lesbian and bisexual women
met in most pulp novels for a more positive, yet still complicated look
at lesbian relationships. In them, Bannon created characters that have
not only endured, but remain surprisingly relevant to contemporary
Odd Girl Out (1957)
focuses on Laura Landon, a wide eyed college girl seduced by Beth, her
older, bolder sorority sister who insists on making Laura her roommate,
and then her bedmate. Just as Laura gets turned on to the Sapphic
action, Beth leaves her for a more traditional life (and a man), and
Laura is devastated.
The second book in the series I Am A Woman
(1959), follows Laura to New York City’s Greenwich Village, where she
makes friends with gay boys, meets butch heartbreaker Beebo Brinker at
a bar, and deals with coming out to her domineering father.
Women In The Shadows
(1959) continues the story of Laura and Beebo’s tumultuous relationship
amidst a chaotic gay scene, including bar raids and other early
stirrings of what would become the fight for gay rights in the ’70s.
Laura’s first girlfriend Beth returns in Journey To A Woman
(1960), having left her husband and family to reconcile with Laura,
whom she still loves. But Beth succumbs to Beebo’s roguish charms, and
is drawn into a drama-laden lesbian love triangle.
In Beebo Brinker
(1962), the author takes a look back to Beebo’s formative years. We
witness her journey from small town to big city, and see exactly how
she got to be such a brazen butch in a time when wearing pants was
still a scandalous endeavor for a woman.
In the pulp tradition, Bannon
focuses on writing her characters actions, and doesn’t dwell on
detailed descriptions of their environment. But the fact that she
doesn’t fill in the broad strokes of the background only makes it
easier to relate to Laura, Beebo and Beth. When Bannon describes a gay
bar as “quite dark” with its few lights “glowing a faint pinky orange”
and “people crowded together,” she’s let the reader know that bars
haven’t changed much in the intervening 50 years.
The words Bannon puts in her
character’s mouths are the ones that count here, and their talk flows
fast and furious, urgent with slang and driving the reader through all
five books at a breakneck pace. In fact, by the time you finish
reading, you might just find yourself wishing the ride lasted a little
For all the campy fun, there
are still earnest and complicated lesbian love stories being told, and,
underscoring everything, a thought-provoking narrative about the lives
lesbians led decades ago. This is fiction, but the feelings described
in the novels resonate as real.
When Laura first enters a gay
bar, and learns exactly what the word “gay” means, she’s astounded,
thrilled, and more than a little scared to put a name to her desires.
Her combined euphoria and fear as she comes out to herself, her family,
and her friends echoes what many women today still feel–even years
after Stonewall and in an age of more positive queer visibility than
While much has changed since
Laura and Beebo’s time — especially the strict adherence to
butch/femme roles seen in the novels–the fact remains that the
feelings of confusion and fear around coming out, the difficulties in
keeping up a relationship which is marginalized by society, the pain of
leaving behind family ties to be with the person you love in order to
be your yourself, are all still very real for many women today.
The five Beebo Brinker Books
are sexy and entirely entertaining, and still manage to remind readers
of the progress made in the fight for lesbian rights and political and
social viability. Impressive work for novels that originally sold for
35 cents at a drugstore counter.