The Beebo Brinker Chronicles

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I Am a WomanWomen in the Shadows

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.

Cleis Press

(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

lesbian culture.

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

longer.

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

ever before.

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.

Get the Beebo Brinker series at CleisPress.com,

or get more info at AnnBannon.com

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