Book read: The Swashbuckler by Lee Lynch (pt 2)

May 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment

Because too much can’t be said about Lee Lynch’s books, here is another review of The Swashbuckler, this time by Fran Walker*. She’s also kindly shared her review of Toothpick House in the next post.

“The Swashbuckler” by Lee Lynch. Naiad Press, 1985

New York City, circa 1960. Frenchy is a quiet, obedient, boring grocery cashier all week. On the weekends she tells her mother she’s going to play cards with the girls and, once out of the house, transforms herself into a swaggering, role-obsessed butch who hits the Greenwich Village bars and picks up a different femme every night. In Frenchy’s generation, “coming out” means realising you’re gay and having your first sexual experience with a girl. It has nothing to do with telling your family, because, well, that just ain’t ever gonna happen. Living a lie leaves Frenchy bitter and hard; she only comes alive when she’s in the gay community.Mercedes is a butch, too. Like Frenchy, she’s role-obsessed, she lives with her mom, and she’s young, dumb, and mixed-up. But she’s got it a lot harder than Frenchy. She’s Puerto Rican, and so faces a lifetime of white-against-brown discrimination. She suffers from depression. She’s got a lot more family issues than Frenchy.

They meet. They become friends. Best friends. They cruise femmes together. But Mercedes grows up, so to speak, and Frenchy doesn’t. And so their lives diverge, meet, diverge, and meet again. With, finally, a happy ending for everyone.

The book is exquisitely written with Frenchy’s story told in the third person, past tense, and Mercedes story told in the first person, present tense, each with a very different and vivid voice. It’s a tribute to Lee Lynch’s skill that it seems unthinkable the story could be told in any other way, though normally you’d think that combination was just a recipe for disaster.

For me, the book was a huge learning experience. I never really got the butch versus femme stuff, and vaguely assumed it just meant how you dress and whether you like to cook or use power tools. I had no clue what “stone butch” really meant. The Swashbuckler, then, opened up a whole world for me and showed me where we came from, what lesbian life was like fifty years ago, and where the butch/femme roles came from. It was fairly depressing for me, too, to realise how damaging those role stereotypes must’ve been. “Butch” proscribed how you walked, how you drank, how you smoked, how you kissed, how you loved. (Christ on a cracker, I hope we’ve got past all that?)

Both characters are utterly believable. They leap off the page and into your head. Mercedes I loved. Frenchy I could understand and feel sorry for, but I never quite liked or admired her, even when she got her head together. So, although this book is, in terms of craft and complexity, a step up from Toothpick House, I have to admit that I liked the first book a bit better.

* Fran Walker is primarily a writer of short fiction. Her non-fiction book, Lavender Ink: Writing and Selling Lesbian Fiction, was recently published by Bedazzled Ink Books. She can be contacted at franwalker@ihug.co.nz

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Entry filed under: Authors, Lesbian lit, Reads. Tags: , .

Pulp-a-thon Toothpick House by Lee Lynch – reviewed by Fran Walker

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Evecho’s newsy bits

News, updates and links from the lesbian and publishing ‘verse that interest me, my current projects, keeping up with authors and sharing musings on middle-class life, gourmet adventures and comparisons between East/West perspectives. My opinions will likely be linearly logical and gayly bent, as they tend to be.