Classic Tales: A Reader’s Perspective of the Story in the Story

When I graduated from college I went on a binge of trying to read all the classic works that I didn’t read in school but thought I should have. I made it through the Brõnte sisters, Charles Dickens, Faulkner, Cooper, and others but totally and completely stopped a chapter into Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

For all of you readers out there who have read this classic piece of literature you have my respect, I, however, was not caught and couldn’t find the motivation to keep turning the page. Where to go from there, though? Science fiction? Biographies? Westerns? Mysteries? Romances? Surely not romances because those were stories with little to offer right? I was an English major! I couldn’t read such things, right? I couldn’t spend hours reading about a husky male rescuing some distraught female from boredom with promises of throbbing sex, right? Luckily, it was around that same time that I discovered independent bookstores and, more importantly, women’s bookstores.

I truly feel sorry for anyone who was not able to frequent such a store due to location or to time and the passing of these great spaces of womeness (no that’s not a word but it should because it captures that idea of everything woman). I wish they still proudly stood on the corners in the eclectic parts of town. I was like a kid walking into a candy store each time a trip to such a store was planned or I happened upon a new find in a new town. I remember looking through the Yellow Pages, back when that was an actual book, and finding all the listings for Bookstore. Some made it obvious they catered to female interests others had names that could pass either way. It was so wonderful to slide my finger down to their entry, find the address, and plan the inevitable spending spree.

The idea that there might be stories I could relate to started while I was in college and I was given a copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, a whole new type of classic. A type of story that hadn’t even been on my radar until much later but it was that glimpse of what was possible that simmered in my book-a-holic brain. Finding bookstores with shelves full of lesbian stories was a heat lamp causing all those simmering seeds to explode! Bookstores offered so much more than that secret copy of Rubyfruit Jungle getting passed around in the underground lesbian network, they offered an out and proud approach to new stories. Stories that offered hope and connection. And best of all, they showed love. Love stories. Was that romance? Was I reading stories that I had previously thought held no significance in the literature world? I WAS and even more importantly I WAS LOVING IT!

We have so many talented authors in this genre who are willing to wrap us up in a warm cocoon and show us those precious moments of connection between two women. Connections that develop into love with all the challenges that go along with it. It’s all about being a lesbian and it is awesome!

But there are some stories within our genre that I truly respect for how they digress from my go-to. Stories that focus on a challenge that any person could be facing except in these stories that person happens to be lesbian. They might get the woman in the end, but the story seems to have a different force behind it other than a love relationship.

My first encounter with such a work was Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s Working Parts.

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It’s about an incredibly talented bike mechanic whose challenge isn’t finding a love interest but rather in overcoming the biggest challenge in her life: illiteracy. Another one, J.E. KnowlesArusha. There is an exploration of human connections but the story focused me on the emotions rather than on the sexuality of the main character. It showed the devastation to the spirit sacrifices can cause and how one woman chooses to change her life.

One that especially touched me was Family Jewels by Kate Christie. A story that seemed to emphasize how it is when we are challenged the most we find the strength we need to grow and become stronger.

Most recently, The Return by Ana Matics showed me that to gain forgiveness one must start inside and forgive yourself before you can expect others to forgive you. I know there are more. They may not get the notice or recognition of other stories in the lesfic genre but they are so awesome for their approach! Fellow readers help me out- what are some novels that expressed a message featuring a lesbian character? What was the message and how did it impact you?

Maybe none of these stories will end up on some English majors list of classics to read upon their college graduation, but I think they have some very significant messages that span to any sexual orientation. I guess the saying is a cross over. A crossover to mainstream. But we all have friends and family of various sexual orientation. Why not recommend some of these? Let everyone know the depth of feeling and emotion our lesfic authors are so amazing at nurturing on the pages.

So, fellow readers, what story would YOU recommend? Put your recommendations in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “Classic Tales: A Reader’s Perspective of the Story in the Story

  1. Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone. Gorgeous book of finally finding value and meaning in oneself.

    I also read through some of the “missed classics” after college. That was a fun adventure. I read Moby Dick in high school- I love the ocean, I love the whole setting, I really don’t love that book. My voice teacher told me I would like it when I was older, but I haven’t dared pick it back up yet…

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    1. Ann that is so on the money! Now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t add Finding The Grain because that one was an excellent story. Thanks for reminding me. In regards to Moby Dick, I’m not seeing that being on my to-read list in the near future either!

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  2. The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters, is simply an epic piece of writing. Set in London in WW2, it has four protagonists. I am currently writing a novel with 2 PsOV, and that’s difficult enough! Two of the female leads are lesbian, and one straight; the fourth is a young man who has undergone a terrible trauma. The way their stories are interwoven is done with extraordinary skill. The research which Waters has done to get every period detail right (always an issue with me, if it’s not) is staggering. But it’s no dry accumulation of academic showing-off. The reader lives the story, and experiences the bombing, sees the buildings burn and crumble, feels the fear of imminent death undergone daily by London’s citizens, sees their stoicism and humour. There are so many secondary characters who also make their mark, and ring true. I cannot recommend this masterpiece highly enough. You may also enjoy two of her historicals, Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith – brilliant storytelling.

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    1. Sarah Waters does have some fabulous stories available to us, that is for sure! I haven’t read The Night Watch, but that may soon be added to my wish list. Thanks for responding and the recommendation!!

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  3. Well I have a few that maybe wouldn’t be ‘classics’ per se, but they’ve left an indelible mark on me. Amy Dunne’s ‘Secret Lies’ for one. Wonderfully crafted novel about self harm. Secondly ‘Interference’ by Zoe Reed. This one sticks in my mind because of it’s journey to heal. It was really powerful. Lastly ‘Loved and Lost’ by Stephanie Kusiak because of it’s absolute intensity. I’ve read that one at least 3 times.

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    1. Ted- Just looked up ‘Secret Lies’ and that looks intense!! I have definitely heard of Stephanie Kusiak’s ‘Loved and Lost’ mostly along the lines of how many boxes of kleenex I will need! If you’ve read it three times though, it is worth the risk I think! Thanks for reading and the suggestions.

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  4. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Both are more about very close women friendships and not actual lesbianism but the relationships are deep and meaningful. Excellent stories are woven that will make you laugh, cry, and bond with all the characters. Settings so vivid you’ll feel like you’ve walked into the towns discussed on the pages.

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    1. I totally remember reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe after watching the movie and thinking it showed so much more that truly made the story. Excellent mention! I just looked up Code Name Verity and just the opening makes me wonder- could I ever leave my best friend? That must be an incredible story! Thanks so much for reading and the suggestions!

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    1. I totally get that! If you want to mention several that would be awesome but I could totally see how this could be a forever conversation which, in my opinion, are the best conversations! Thanks for reading!

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