Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lesbian Pride: a love letter to Monica Nolan

That subject line is false advertising. I do love Monica Nolan but this won't take the form of a love letter as I'd originally intended. See, I can't pull it off, no matter how I try. I'd wanted to do a version of what she does, what she's done in her books that are beyond fabulicious. I'd planned to write an early-1960s-style missive, one lit gal to another, laying out the whys and wherefores of my adoration. Every time I tried, however, it came off false. Full of gee's and gosh'es and an assortment of other strained back-in-the-day-isms. A patent pastiche. Utterly devoid of the breezy panache with which she pulls off her wondrous feats of homage.

For that, at least partly, is what Monica Nolan's novels are. An homage to 1950s-60s lesbian pulp fiction, three so far in the lesbian career girl series. The covers are juicily delightful.

I've read them all. My best friend gave me this first one, Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, a few years ago. I squealed with delight when I first saw it. For I too am a lesbian secretary and yes I could tell you a tale or two of lesbian secretarial shenanigans, especially in an office I worked in some 30 years ago where by some miracle of the goddesses almost the whole clerical crew was of the Sapphic persuasion and we all persuaded each other if you know what I mean. Ahem. Anyway. This is the book that introduced me to Monica Nolan and her craftily inventive comic fiction.

I've read more than a few of the originals of these types of books, and I can tell you that Nolan knows her stuff. She pulls it off masterfully, winkingly telling tales of innocent girls landing in the big city and being led happily astray, tales that are true in language and spirit to the old-school books. Yet while these novels parody the originals--and in laugh-out-loud ways--they also lovingly salute them and manage to be touching at the same time. And tell fun, exciting, and, yes, romantic stories. You root for the protagonist in each and feel well acquainted with all the characters. My best friend also gave me this second one, Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher, a couple years ago. Loved it!

Now, a couple weeks ago, my friend alerted me that a third book in the series had just been published. In fact, she called me from San Francisco asking me to help her with a conundrum. What to read? She was in the midst of a very good novel but had just come from the bookstore where she'd picked up Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante, Nolan's newest. She'd started reading it on the bus ride home, and now she couldn't decide whether to keep reading Maxie or go back to the very good other book she'd been reading. The hell with my friend's dilemma--now that I knew there was a new Nolan out, I ran to the store myself and picked it up. I read it last week. Enjoyed it equally to the first two.

There are so many delectable bits to savor in these books. Nolan's penchant for hilariously alliterative names, not limited to the title characters. The wide-eyed-innocent colloquialisms her characters mouth, as well as the yummy sexual euphemisms. But she also embeds some serious stuff, and many nods to historical reality, more so as the series proceeds. The second book referred to communists and the red scare. This third one has one of the characters gone off to Mississippi with the Freedom Riders. Best of all is Nolan's version of the early-60s lesbian proto-activist San Francisco scene. She's got the girls volunteering at a newsletter called The Step Stool, modeled after The Ladder, the first national lesbian publication. She's got the "Sisters of Sappho" standing in for The Daughters of Bilitis. And so on.

Peppered throughout, too, are hints of the beginnings of consciousness, an urge toward fighting oppression, the start of something like pride. Keep going, Monica Nolan! Take us all the way to Stonewall, and beyond! I'll stick with you every step of the way. For the fun and the lesbian kick of it, and yes for something like the pride of it.

See y'all on Fifth Avenue next Sunday. Happy LGBTQ Pride Month!