Adventures in Reading


“Mama Loved Patsy Cline” by Laura Bork

“I’m crazy for tryin’ and crazy for cryin’ and I’m crazy for loving you.” – Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”

I am a little behind in posting, but July’s short story for A Curious Singularity [1] was Laura Bork’s short work “Mama Loved Patsy Cline.” While slowly digging through some rather demanding tomes I decided to take a pleasant afternoon break and peruse Bork’s story.

Set in Texas, Margaret travels to her mother’s home along with her ex-girlfriend Rhoda. The reader learns that Margaret’s father has past and the two women are taking this trip to obtain his cello that Margaret has inherited.

Bork is slow to reveal her story. It’s roughly the second page before the narrator’s name is revealed, it’s nearly the middle of the story when we learn why the trip has been made or of the artistic talents of the father, and it’s the last page of the novel before the title’s importance solidifies. While this slow to reveal method helps obscure aspects of the story from immediate notice, I admit I was quick to decide that the story was transparent and single faceted.

In thirteen pages, Bork creates five interestingly complex characters through this pattern of revelation. Margaret, the first character to speak, returns home but what feels like for the final time. She is still in love with Rhoda and the reader can never be entirely positive why Rhoda has participated in this journey: out of guilt or because, as she says, she sincerely wants to remain friends? Both women are living in Dallas working on a radio talk show that at least discusses classical music.

Margaret’s mother appears as perhaps the most transparent character. The reader meets her smoking and stinking of “whiskey sour breakfast.” DebbieSue, Margaret’s younger sister, hovers on the edge of the story like a Kleenex filling in holes. Both immediately appear as backward bumpkins, without a car, and living in a decrepit home full of cats. But the discussion of Debussy and DebbieSue’s passion, if not talent, for the cello begin to unveil a more complicated situation.

The final character, the father, is an absent character and the reader develops awareness of him through the verbal and unsaid statements of the other characters. A photographer and passionate musician, it’s clear that he and his wife were at odds. Patsy Cline’s appearance in the novel is a result of the mother’s adoration of country music versus her husband’s affection for classical. She would play Patsy Cline to drive him crazy and he’d say “it made his cello sound like it was crying.” At the end of the story when the mother gives the Patsy Cline records to Rhoda in a moment that begs questions of the future but provides no answers.

Bork’s story is good though I wish there had been further development in some of the plot areas.

I found the story to be reminiscent of Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller.

[1] A Curious Singularity is a group blog that invites its participants and readers to explore and discuss a new short story every month.

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An Article: Separate and Unequal

From Publisher’s Weekly: Lesbian and gay literature is for everyone

by Sarah Schulman — Publishers Weekly, 6/30/2008

If you are a lesbian and you want to get married in California, you’re in luck. But if you are a human being who would like to read novels with lesbian protagonists by openly lesbian authors, you’d better move to England. In the U.K., openly lesbian novelists with lesbian content like Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters are treated like people, and their books are treated like books. They are published by the most mainstream publishers, represented by high-rolling agents, reviewed in regular newspapers by real critics, contextualized with other British intellectuals, given mainstream awards, broadcast on television as movies… and as a result of all this respect and consideration, they are read by a broad constituency in England and the rest of the world. For those of us writing here in the United States, England seems like the Promised Land.

In America, lesbian literature has gone the way of cheap rents, good public schools, nonmonogamy, integrated neighborhoods and free will. At this year’s Lambda Literary Awards (the awards the LGBT community gives to our best books ignored by the straight book awards), not a single lesbian book nominated for best novel was published by a mainstream press. Our literature is disappearing at the same time we are being told that we are winning our rights. How can we be equal citizens if our stories are not allowed to be part of our nation’s story?

In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis forced America to admit that gay people exist, and for a brief period the vibrant but underground literature of authentic gay and lesbian experience was able to surface through corporate presses and hover on the margins of American letters. By the early 1990s the country’s most powerful presses started presenting lesbian literature as an integrated part of U.S. intellectual life. But that’s when cultural containment kicked in, in the form of niche marketing. Corporations began the process of transforming a political movement into a consumer group, by selecting particular products to be sold to queers alone. Chain bookstores literally took lesbian literature off of the Fiction shelves and tucked it away in newly formed Gay Book sections, which are usually found on the fourth floor in the back behind the potted plants. At the same time, lesbian writers who avoided protagonists as lesbian as they are were allowed to stay in Fiction. The industry created incentives for authors to avoid the specificity of their own experience, absurdly creating the only literature in the world in which the authors’ actual lives are never recorded. The best known example of many would be Susan Sontag, who maintained her stature as a Major American Intellectual while never applying her prodigious intellectual gifts to a public analysis of her own condition. She even wrote a book analyzing AIDS stigma while staying in the closet.

Ironically, in our conservative cultural moment, familiarity is confused with quality. It is actually harder to write a lesbian novel than one with a dominant culture protagonist, because there isn’t the recycling of agreed upon narrative conventions that mainstream writers depend on. As a result, writing that actually brings new information about how people live and expands American literature is coded as “wrong” and irrelevant, while the U.S. continues its obsession with the coming-of-age of the white male as the central story of the nation.

Now that we face the possibility of an Obama presidency, LGBT people hope for a more equitable society, in which we can enjoy a country that reflects our needs as much as those of heterosexuals. In a media culture, not being represented accurately and with variety is a serious disability. If they can do it in England, they can do it in New York. Let all the writers, agents, editors, publishers, marketers, publicists, critics, book buyers and booksellers act as if lesbian and gay literature is for everyone. If we expect this from each other and behave accordingly, it will come to be.