**spoiler alert** I love Beth Saulnier's books about the town of "Gabriel," NY, and "Benson University." They're thinly (VERY THINLY) veiled tales of**spoiler alert** I love Beth Saulnier's books about the town of "Gabriel," NY, and "Benson University." They're thinly (VERY THINLY) veiled tales of Ithaca, NY and Cornell University, writ large and sarcastic, with love. The main character is a small-town straight-white-woman journalist who does annoying things like talk a lot about going jogging so she can eat what she wants without getting any fatter, but she's overall fun in a fast-talkin' brassy-sassy-mouthy smartypants kind of way, she makes pesto that sounds amazing and hosts regular food/social gatherings that sound fun (if one is an extrovert, which I am not, so double bonus points for a story that's not really about me), and she's Down With The Gays in a not-too-offensive cool-straight-lady kind of way. And anyway the stuff that's really fun is the stuff about Ithaca. This book features a scandal involving a murder meant to look like a gorge-related suicide, queer student organizing (in a way that is not that effective and thus rang sort of true to my experience as a student, if not the experience of queer students who came after me who were actually kind of awesome at organizing), and the inevitable wackiness that happens when the queer students want to build a queer program house on the site of a gay-bashing--which is the Arts Quad, which in Saulnier's version of Cornell has a SUPER SECRET NUCLEAR POWER PLANT UNDER IT. Oops, I just gave away the plot. But really. A nuclear power plant under the Arts Quad? People thinking they could have a queer program house when the university administration has been so dedicated to eliminating program houses because they are scary what with the spectre of all the people of color building community and power in them, Risley or McLLU be damned, since the early 90s? The idea that a student group would think that they had a prayer in hell of getting ANYTHING built on the Arts Quad and messing up the publicity pictures? I basically giggled through this whole book, and if you went to Cornell or lived in Ithaca for any length of time, you probably will too. Feminism Lite, yes. Enjoyable trashy fun, YES....more
I like a good cozy. Especially when it involves kickass women, crafts, art history (that's the influence of my art history professor girlfriend), queeI like a good cozy. Especially when it involves kickass women, crafts, art history (that's the influence of my art history professor girlfriend), queers, or something full of sparkles and/or spangles (aka things that queers like)--FOR EXAMPLE, dance--and/or some kind of unveiling of the claustrophobic wackiness of small towns that makes queers want to either paint everybody with rainbows, or run away. Escapist, kinda. Cozy. This one sort of delivers.
A kickass woman? Check: Jenny Partridge is creative, runs a mostly successful small business, doesn't need a man to make her happy or into a person, and has personality without running into manic pixie dream girl territory.
Crafts? Well, there're some good bits about costume design.
Art history? Well, dance: somethin' creative; good times had by all.
Spangles and glitter and things that (ok, ok, not all, just some) queers like? HELLO, DANCE. Dance classes with young kids, but still. Good times.
Claustrophobic wackiness? Roberts, who writes books about Mormon women under another name, writes an outside-Mormonism-but-still-in-a-Mormon-community experience in a way that's really interesting, doesn't belittle anybody's religion, but also rings true to my experience with living in a community of evangelical religious people (ahemcoughmyrelatives) in a loving way. Also, the dance parents: whoa. BUT: here is my beef with their characterization: 1. the book starts off with Jenny overdramatically cowering in horror at the HUGE, MASSIVE BULK of a GIGANTICSCARYFAT dance mom because she's afraid she'll be suffocated by the ZORGSMAGORGSDEATHFAT. Hilaaaaaarious. (Can I tell you how much I hate this? SO MUCH.) 2. Although it's true that most stage parents are stage moms, and the reason for that is that it's hard for straight rich white ladies to find power in their communities in some places in the heteropatriarchy, AND it sucks to deal with the public in a teaching or customer service job when the adults around you won't respect your boundaries, a lot of the going-for-humor over-the-topness of the dance moms reads as *too* over the top, edging into sexist caricature.
Queers? Jenny's got a gay friend. A closety gay friend. Who does not respect boundaries and insists on drawing her into his wacky schemes to protect his privilege in the heteropatriarchy by using her as a beard even when she STOPS consenting to be so used. And then he whines and gives the big puppy eyes, and she melts because goshdarnit it IS hard to be queer in a conservative community.
WELL FUCK THAT SHIT.
No means NO, even when sex is not involved. I WILL NOT PRETEND TO MARRY YOU DOES NOT MEAN, GO TELL YOUR MOTHER THAT WE ARE GETTING MARRIED AND THEN MANIPULATE ME INTO GOING ALONG WITH WHAT *YOUR MOTHER* DECIDES ARE FAMILY OBLIGATIONS. NO MEANS FUCKING NO. I don't care if there's no pressuring to have sex--this is emotional abuse, and it's NOT FUNNY.
The rest of the book was diverting enough, but the forced teaming and gaslighting and poor-me manipulation by the gay guy? Gives the rest of us a bad name and ruins the book. Being in the closet and being scared about losing your privileges does not give you a free pass to manipulate and emotionally abuse your friends. FUCK THAT SHIT....more