Published in 1979, Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips is a collection of short stories and flash fiction that you simply should not deprive yourself of a single day longer. Fair warning: the characters in this world are not “likeable.” Their actions, largely, are not “relatable.” If that’s what you value in fiction, you may find this collection troubling. Read it anyway. The experience will be worth it, I promise.Read More
For all its beauty, The Stone Diaries is a frightening book. It tells the story of Daisy Goodwill, from conception to death. Families fracture, children are born, marriages dissolve, and as you may have guessed, people die. Many of these events concern major characters yet are told as mere side notes. The book doesn’t linger; It mimics life’s swift indifference.
The Stone Diaries will make you consider your mortality. It will make you want to call your grandmother. Not just because she is nearing the same climax that Daisy inevitably reaches, but because you will one day be in the phase of life your grandmother is in, and if that is true, she was once in yours. No really, I know you already know this, but you won’t know this until you read The Stone Diaries, and every single tragedy you’ve experienced is no longer significant because it’s just life, and you’ll experience plenty more highs and lows before you die.Read More
“I’m often asked what it’s like to be married to a genius.” That’s the first sentence of Rebecca Goldstein’s The Mind-Body Problem. Protagonist Renee Feuer Himmel continues, “I could never even decide how I should arrange my face when I answered.” That’s the heart of the book: Renee’s body and mind in concert, in combat, and in service to the myth of her husband. Goldstein playfully expands it into a bevy of false dichotomies: beautiful or brainy, sexual or cerebral, religious or rational, public or private, Orthodox or academic, young or old.
Though she’s a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, Renee Feuer discounts her intellect as secondary to her body and beauty, and so do her colleagues. Read More
I was in college when a lesbian friend handed me a copy of Rubyfruit Jungle. It was squat and plain, with an abstract purple-and-white cover and the word “bestseller” tucked furtively above the author’s name. It also had a tender and hilarious dedication, a provocative sample on the first page, and in retrospect, one of the gayest author photos I’ve ever seen: a handsome, dignified woman with a neckerchief stroking a cat while gazing contentedly into the middle distance. (Fans of Rita Mae Brown know that this cat’s name is Sneaky Pie Brown—the “coauthor” of her Mrs. Murphy cozy mystery series.)
I wasn’t out yet. I wasn’t even exactly sure what I was, what “out” meant exactly, or what was out there for me—though my friend giving me this little book was both perceptive and prescient.Read More
Female friendship took center stage in my life this past year after I moved across the country. I had female friends in my new city, but they were isolated friendships – one woman I’d see in mixed company at parties or another I’d meet for one-on-one brunches. These women friends didn’t know each other and I didn’t know their other female friends, but many of our problems – advancement at work, love and relationships, street harassment and assault – were the same. They were also isolating and to us, shameful. It seemed society was designed that way, as if too many women talking to each other might unlock some sort of power (hint: it does, as shown in the book I’m about to review). Society is framed to keep women apart. You have to actively fight it.
The Women’s Room tells the story of Mira’s liberation as she navigates through the 1950s, 60s and 70s as a girl, a teenager and a woman. Mira’s gender is decisive to the path her life will take, starting with her decision to marry the most boring white man in the world.
Mira’s story is told since she was a young girl and started noticing the inequalities in her own world: “She began to realize that something was awry in the world… The stories in the newspaper were always about men, except once in a while when a woman got murdered, and there was Eleanor Roosevelt but everyone made fun of her.”
And so, our heroine begins to analyze her life within the framework of gender and she thought, like I have before: “No matter where she went or what she did, she would always have to worry about what men were thinking, how they looked at her, what they might do.”Read More
First published in 1969, Patience and Sarah remains a classic of lesbian literature. Written by Alma Routsong under the pen name Isabel Miller, the intimate, timeless novel presents the story of two women, 27-year-old Patience and 21-year-old Sarah, who fall passionately in love in 1816 Connecticut.
Each lives somewhat outcast from their conservative, religious community—Patience for her elite education and refusing to marry, Sarah for dressing and laboring as a man—and from the moment they meet, they are instantly and overpoweringly attracted to each other. As they begin to do something like dating, we learn that Sarah, who feels miserable and trapped, has been secretly planning to leave and purchase a farm in New York. Read More
What first struck me about Mary McCarthy’s The Group is just how recognizable it is. It shouldn’t be. The story starts in 1933, and it was published in 1963—decades and decades ago—but the story still feels like it could have been written about modern women struggling to determine who they are in the world.
The core of this, I think, is the construct of the group itself—a construct so attractive that Candace Bushnell used The Group as inspiration for her Sex And The City. There’s something eternally fascinating in a story about a group of girlfriends—from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to The Golden Girls.It underscores a reality about the female experience: Women are expected to get along with each other in a way men aren’t. Read More
I read My Antonia slowly, like my bookshelf was experiencing a famine and I had to ration female perspective. Luckily for me and all of you, there’s been a lot of that going on since the dawn of humanity, and I am very excited to illuminate some of it by way of this blog.
But not everyone can do what Willa Cather can.
What overwhelmed me, besides the poetic beauty and wit of Cather’s writing style, was how strong women are seen as beautiful, female friendships are reliable and sustained, and women take control of and improve their circumstances. To be overwhelmed by any of this is nonsense. But I was. Read More