Category Archives: Lesbian Fiction

Jeanette Winterson Tells Us All She Knows About Love

Sorry to be so late in pointing this out, but if you haven’t yet read Jeanette Winterson’s incredible personal essay in Granta, Spring 2011, entitled All I Know About Gertrude Stein, run to your bookstore and hope they still have a copy, or check out Granta online. I read it there first, then lucked out this past June–B&N still had a copy. I mean it–run! It is the most exquisite thing I’ve read in many years.

Should She Stay or Should She Go? Kate Evans’ Complementary Colors

Complementary Colors

by Kate Evans

Publisher: Vanilla Heart Publishing (2009)

ISBN-10: 1935407864

ISBN-13: 978-1935407867

Gwen Sullivan is a woman adrift. She has returned from a stint teaching English in Japan, and is committed but unfulfilled in her job at a tutoring center and her volunteer work for Bill Clinton’s campaign. She has been married and divorced and now drifts into a live-in situation with her boyfriend, Daniel, a scientist who works long hours and does not make much room in his life for her. Seeking something more, she joins a community poetry class. There she finds her passions stirred by the instructor’s assignments and her imagination piqued by two rather raucous dykes. Through her attraction to both poetry and one of the women, Jamie, Gwen begins to unravel what is missing in her life.

Evans writes well about the teacher-student relationship, the entanglements of love, and the difficulties in coming to self-acceptance. Gwen’s delight in poetry is playfully and exquisitely rendered, as are her growing doubts about her relationship with Daniel and the push-pull between her and Jamie, who has her own entanglement in an affair with a woman minister. Gwen has had one failed marriage and doesn’t want another. Reluctant to give up, she pushes Daniel for more communication, only to find him moving away from her. Meanwhile, her every communication with Jamie is sparked by desire, curiosity, intrigue. Is Gwen just bored? Is Jamie evasive because of her relationship with a woman minister, or is there something else that holds her back? Who can Gwen trust?

Although the plot turns on Gwen’s acceptance of her attraction to Jamie, and, subsequently, on her parsing the reactions of her women friends and family, Complementary Colors is more than a coming-out story. It is really a deep exploration about self-awareness and acceptance, about the nature of love, and the limitations of relationships. Evans is also a poet, and we feel that in her often-stirring prose. This is a very close portrait of a woman in the throes of change, who is discovering just how much of her happiness she is willing to entrust to another.

I admire a great deal about Evan’s thematic structure and her language. I am happy to see a coming-out story that delves deeper for the universal meaning. However, I found myself exasperated with her heroine, Gwen, for her seemingly-endless equivocations. I wanted to scream, “He’s not into you. Move on!” long before Gwen makes the first tentative steps toward Jamie. Better calibrated is her growing attraction to Jamie and Jamie’s response. Evans is too accomplished a writer to have our girl fall straight from Daniel’s bed into Jamie’s arms. There’s enough tension to make us doubt Jamie’s motivation, and enough faith in Gwen’s growing self-awareness to trust her judgment, at last. On the whole, though, I kept wishing she would step up sooner and take charge, not only of her love life, but also of her career choices and her evasive family.

But what I wish is not what happens in real life, is it? We dither and spin and cause ourselves endless heartache. I’d like my literary heroines a bit punchier––sometimes I wished to hear the story from Jamie’s point of view––but this is a fine book by a strong writer, and well worth your exploration.

Kate Evans is the author of a poetry collection (Like All We Love, Spirit/Q Press) and a book about lesbian and gay teachers (Negotiating the Self, Routledge). Her debut novel, For the May Queen, was released in 2008 by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in more than 40 publications, including the North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Santa Monica Review,and ZYZZYVA.  Her work has been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Lambda Literary Award and two Pushcart Prizes. A California native, she teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose State University. (A word to Vanilla Heart: better proofreading would do this author justice.)

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