Posts tagged ‘Lee Lynch’

Toothpick House by Lee Lynch – reviewed by Fran Walker

“Toothpick House” by Lee Lynch. Naiad House, 1983.

Yes, it’s a romance. And yes, Fran I-hate-romance-novels Walker loved it. And no, you won’t pry my autographed copy out of my hands. Not even out of my cold, dead hands.

Annie is a blue-collar, hard-drinking, bar-hopping, butch taxi driver who lives in a rented falling-down beach cottage. Victoria is student at Yale who has never even been to a bar, let alone guessed she might be lesbian. They fall in love, but as they’re both aware, that doesn’t guarantee their HEA. Love means hard work and sacrifice and risk.

Much of the book deals with the changes they have to make in their lives and their mindsets to accomodate their relationship. The progress of their relationship, their love, and their sexual interactions are beautifully done, with the characters, as individuals and as a couple, so well drawn and likeable that the HEA is as believable as it is welcome.

As Annie’s and Victoria’s lives change, so do the lives of their circle of friends. A lesbian becomes a feminist. A feminist becomes an activist. An activist becomes a lesbian. Annie’s house, the “toothpick house”, becomes an allegory throughout the story for Annie’s relationship with Victoria, and for women’s roles in the world: fragile yet timeless, vulnerable yet committed. It’s subtle, yet beautifully done, and brought full circle in the story’s last line.

Though the plot is largely internal and could be classified as literary, the prose is accessible and easy to read. It’s not quite as lean and polished as Lynch’s current works, but it’s easy to see that she’s been a skilled writer since before I was born, and the quality of the prose in Toothpick House is far, far above most of what is published today.

The story is a telling illustration of what gay life was like decades ago. I didn’t feel it was outdated, though. Not only are the characters’ experiences still valid to the lesbian experience today, but the story is such a good history lesson and reminder of where we came from and why it’s so important to hang on to the progress and rights we’ve gained. I’d love to see this book re-issued and made available to a new generation (or two) of readers.


* 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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May 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm Leave a comment

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

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

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

Book read: The Swashbuckler by Lee Lynch

I’m a little late writing this post about The Swashbuckler. I’ve left it for several weeks after finishing the book because I was waiting for the awe to subside and for my thoughts to gather.

Lee Lynch is an icon in the world of lesbian writing. She’s been out and proud since the 50s/60s? and has been writing faithfully since then. I use the word faithfully in another sense too – in her writings, she’s archived the lesbian scene of the times and her ages.

Read her short and modest bibliography here and here, before continuing this post.

The Swashbuckler is Frenchy Tonneau, a petite, stone butch with a solid ego, who – in her hated daylife – lives with her mother and works as a cashier. You’d think Lee Lynch had presented a set character as prop to show the changing world of the 60s and 70s, but the book is about Frenchy growing and maturing,  through her friends, lovers, other lesbians, the Village and Provincetown, to finally take the lover she has been waiting for.

Frenchy never loses her butchness but she sees, or rather we see, her old-fashioned mentality, how she loses or retains the views that make her comfortable and becomes an older, wiser Frenchy. In the process, we meet the neurotic butch, Mercedes, who understands pain and love deeply and whom Frenchy unexpectedly falls in love with, dyke couples who do and don’t follow the rules, and the colourful residents of the Village, including Pamela, the gypsy hippie artist who sexes Frenchy out of her stone shell.

Lee’s writing is honest, almost brusque. Her characters are diverse and oh so interesting because she lets us see what they see. The book is about the journeys her characters take to grow, to stay lesbian, to make their relationships work. The issues they face are real, the learning incremental.  I found it refreshing to read a non-adjective laden book that is layered in humanistic issues, that starts without a promise and ends in a rainbow. There’s a lot to take in; the New York it protrays is gritty, blue-collar and ethnic, and the times were forcing Frenchy to evolve.

To pick  one lesbian and show the reader so much about the micro-environment that is the Village and the effect it has on her, at a time when very little was written about lesbians at all, marks this book as a lesbian classic.

The Swashbuckler is a beautiful story.

Swashbuckler

Lee Lynch has been published with several publishers. Her current books and backlist may be obtained from here.

The Swashbuckler is available from here.

A special post-script Frenchy story, written last year, can be found in Second Helpings, Read These Lips Volume 2 at www.readtheselips.com.

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April 25, 2009 at 6:28 pm 4 comments


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.