Alice Street Editions has released a new edition of this 1986 novel by author Katherine V. Forrest, originally published by Naiad Press. If you read this novel long ago, it is worth the purchase price just to read the foreword from the author and the afterword written by Victoria A. Brownworth. But the book is worth rereading for its own merits.
Set in 1984 in Los Angeles against the backdrop of the Olympics and the presidential campaign involving the first (and only) woman candidate for vice president, the novel is not dated at all by this, nor is it dated by its subject matter. It is as fresh and nuanced and topical as if it had been written today.
The point is made in the afterword that Ms. Forrest writes about lesbians for lesbians. In this novel, among the first in a new genre of lesbian fiction, Ms. Forrest carefully and skillfully presents the male character, the antagonist, as fully drawn and as sympathetically as one could, a man trapped by his upbringing and his past and the social mores of his time. One may not feel sympathy for him, given the inevitable and violent denouement, but we can certainly understand him.
In fact, a reader might even begin to feel less sympathy and more impatient with the main character Carolyn Blake than perhaps might be expected. She is a trophy wife, married at nineteen to a man ten years older who is already well established in his corporate career track. She sublimates her own education and career to his, leaving jobs to move with his transfers, seemingly accepting without question that her career is less important. A friendship with the woman next door, Val Hunter, a divorced artist with a son, allows Carolyn, and the reader, to begin to draw comparisons.
One of the most interesting things about this novel is how close we get to all three main characters. We see Val through Carolyn's admiring eyes and growing affection, and also through Paul's growing resentment and jealousy as he comes to understand she is his rival. We see Carolyn both through her husband's idealistic view as a possession of which he inordinately proud, and as Val comes to know her, a vibrant woman who has spent far too much time acquiescing to Paul's idea of the perfect wife. Carolyn struggles to continue to believe her husband's possessiveness is a product of his impoverished childhood, the early loss of his mother, and his love for her, which she believes is genuine. Val sees a grown man who is domineering and arrogant in his presumptive male superiority. She instinctively feels there is something infantile about Paul's need for Carolyn, and Carolyn herself often refers to her husband as a little boy. Once she thought of this as an endearing trait, but she begins to feel his need to have her with him as clinging, suffocating, and ultimately controlling.
The tug of war that ensues between husband and friend for the heart and mind of Carolyn Blake slowly escalates as the sexual tension and awareness between the two women increases.
For those who haven't read this book before, a few words of caution. The nature of sex itself is at the heart of this novel. There are no pulled punches here. Ms. Forrest is not shy about delineating the intimate sexual details of a marriage and, exquisitely, the sexual and very sensual relationship between the two women. Nor does she back away from the same attention to the excruciating unraveling of Paul Blake and his eventual recourse to violence as the familiar world he has created starts to crumble.
I once had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Forrest, and found myself peppered with questions about this book, then yet to be released by Alice Street. On the eve of the release of her thirteenth book, the eighth in the Kate Delafield detective series, she wanted to know about a book she had written almost twenty years ago, as nervous as a first time author. Perhaps recalling the critical reviews of many years ago, she asked whether the main character, Carolyn Blake, was too weak.
The answer then and now is an emphatic no. Many women may recognize themselves in Carolyn, guided by the accepted precepts of her time, who believed that in placing their husbands' lives and careers first, they were perhaps doing the hard work often assigned women, that of balancing the cementing of family and home against their own sometimes unspoken desires; to be a woman meant doing what had to be done, and then doing more, if one wanted to also have a career. It takes some time for Carolyn Blake to realize her own needs and to leave behind the conventions to which she adhered but in which she found no rewards for her loyalty, no comfort or room for herself.
The afterword properly places this novel, and Katherine V. Forrest's body of work, firmly in the history of a genre she helped to create, both as an author of great skill, and as senior editor at Naiad Press for ten