“A Love Story” by Evan Mora from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
This is a cute way to end the anthology. The main character and her lover are sitting under a tree in the park enjoying a beautiful day together. The lover asks to be told a story, and the main character obliges, launching into the fantastical tale of how she met the great love of her life, a story that, we come to realize, has many of the actual details of their meeting and subsequent relationship woven into it. It’s the story of how the main character fell for the lover, only embellished. At the end, as they pack up and head home, the lover makes a suggestion about the flavor the story should take during the next evening’s telling, and you get a sense of the timelessness of this union. There’s the feeling that these two characters will continue to cherish the love they share, and renew it nightly through storytelling, for ever after.
“Clean Slate” by Lisabet Sarai from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
Ally is undergoing one of many laser treatments to remove a lifetime of tattoos she collected as a member of a street gang. The lengthy procedure is almost finished but also quite painful, and laser technician Luisa suggests that they stop and make the next time the final session, instead of this one, but Ally insists they keep going. She explains that she promised her fiance Richard that she would be done today. It’s his money that has paid for the treatments, and he’s impatient to witness the spectacle of her skin unmarred by brightly colored inks.
Luisa resumes her work, and soon Ally is free of her past, and free to pursue the next phase of her life. Luisa has definite ideas about what it might entail, and she makes a move Ally is receptive to…for a moment. Once it has passed she seems content to go running back to Richard. She explains this by telling Luisa that he saved her life. Luisa doesn’t dispute that, but she challenges Ally to examine her own heart and ask whether she isn’t trading one sort of gang for another, isn’t still conforming to the expectations of those she feels can protect her. She asks Ally to consider living her life as the person she truly is inside.
“Dumb Bunny” by Lee Lynch from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
After I read this story I felt offended by the title, on behalf of the character of Bunny. I understand perfectly well why the author titled the piece the way she did, but still.
Pensioner Frenchy has decided to briefly come out of retirement as a favor to her former boss; and also because the extra money will help her buy a condo in Florida near her brother and his wife; and, finally, because it feels good to feel needed, and they begged.
She used to train employees for a national grocery chain. She was the best trainer around. Even she, though, has reservations when she learns that the difficult-to-train employee she’s signed on to turn around is the grocery chain owner’s fifty-three year old daughter, Muriel, who goes by the nickname Bunny. Not that Frenchy, whose real name is Genevieve, knows a thing about Muriel/Bunny. It’s the father, Dom Sausilito, who has her worried. If she doesn’t deliver, could he make her new lifestyle as a retiree go up in smoke? Things only get worse when she actually meets Bunny, who is a nervous wreck, probably stemming from the fact that she is unbelievably inexperienced at practically everything and naïve to boot. Yet, Frenchy also finds her endearing. She’s drawn to this childlike woman, and determined to see her succeed.
Kudos to the author for giving the spotlight to characters who are no longer young or even middle aged but also aren’t yet extinct.
“Flash Freeze” by Giselle Renarde from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
This story kept me on my toes for what seemed forever. I had no idea where the author was going with it, but I was definitely intrigued.
It’s fall, but may as well be winter. The temperature dropped overnight and the rain from yesterday turned everything to ice. Lauren’s homemade mittens aren’t stitched tightly enough to keep her hands from freezing and she’s too poor to afford a cup of coffee to carry to warm them on her trek home, on foot, from the grocery store, because she lost her good job and her new one pays a lot less. As if that isn’t enough to tug at your heartstrings, when she sees a former co-worker she panics, slips on the ice, and smacks her head on the hard ground. She ends up being escorted home by the co-worker, Zarina, who turns out to be the last person with whom Lauren wants to interact, precisely because she used to be the person with whom she most wanted to interact.
I know—right? It’s a study in how to set up effective and efficient conflict. You have to read it now, don’t you? Of course you do.
“Leaving” by Angela Vitale from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
This story captures the excitement of being completely immersed in an ongoing intimate relationship. I want to say it’s a relatively new relationship, but it may be one that is continually renewed by the fact that it is a long distance one.
At the start of the story Ang is watching T as she heads down the front path toward her truck and, ultimately, to the airport and back out of town. Ang doesn’t want the visit to be over yet, so she grabs her cell phone and calls T, then races through the darkened house to the bedroom window. There she cajoles her lover with seductive images until she gets what she wants: T returns to the house and extends the visit for a little while longer. It’s an aspect of romance we haven’t yet seen in this collection, the playfulness of people already committed to one another, undertaking the challenge of keeping the interest and excitement of their union alive.
“Blazing June” by JL Merrow from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
Ellen is a police officer in London, called to make a wellness check on an elderly woman who lives alone. Carla, a young mom, is the concerned citizen who phoned the cops to come check on her next door neighbor. When Ellen cuts her finger trying to jimmy her way into the old lady’s apartment, Carla offers to doctor her wound. They’re drawn to one another, and through small talk try to get the correct read on the situation, to avoid misinterpreting cues. The banter also provides a way for them to meet again, a week later, when Ellen shows up at Carla’s gym. Small talk in the locker room further clarifies their mutual interest. They go for coffee, and there begin to speak plainly, going so far as to speculate about Carla’s elderly neighbor Mrs. MacReady. They cite the fact that she married a man because she wanted a child, and then stayed with him even after it became clear they could not have children, as an example of the way things once were for lesbians and for women generally. It’s not at all how things are for the two of them, though, and that fact is quite uplifting. Overall, it’s a very engaging and thought-provoking story.
“Misty and Me” by Catherine Paulson from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
This next entry is short and sweet. In the small town she came to in order to rebuild her life, a woman named Jules finds herself drawn to her new best friend, a young mother by the name of Misty. Jules thinks the attraction is one-sided, but is pleasantly surprised, at the start of the story, to learn that she’s wrong. Misty, however, has a much harder time afterward, battling her inner demons. She worries what people will say and do if they find out, and that fear threatens to tear the two women apart.
All in all it’s an engaging, sensual piece, but I wish it had been a little longer. Several questions came to mind while I was reading it. I’d like to know more about the characters’ lives prior the start of the story. What drove Jules to pull up stakes and start life over in a new town? How did the two meet? What transpired between Misty and the man who is the father of her child? Was she married? Is she now divorced? How does her relationship with her son influence the decision she makes regarding Jules? I wish all of these things had been answered in the text.