Beggar of Love – by Lee Lynch Fiction Bold Strokes Books – Review by J. E. Knowles

imagesJ. E. Knowles is the author of Arusha, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her second novel will be published in 2012. She may be contacted via her Web site, jeknowles.com.

The highest recommendation I can give Lee Lynch’s writing is that you will not mistake it for anyone else’s. Her voice and imagination are uniquely her own. Lynch has been out and proudly writing about it for longer than many of us have been alive. In her new novel, Beggar of Love, she creates a protagonist, Jefferson (known by her surname), so fully realised that the story seems to distill the last several decades of lesbian life.

Since The Swashbuckler (1985), Lynch has unapologetically written novels about and for dykes. As Nicola Griffith has said about ‘lesbian fiction’ (asknicola.blogspot.com), it would not be a compliment to suggest that Lynch transcends the genre; good books are not a genre. A good book can make the reader laugh, feel desire, and think, sometimes all in the same scene. Lynch does this with pithy sentences that can convey an entire relationship and more: ‘The occasional harshness that remained in Ginger’s accent grated on Jefferson, who’d been raised to sound like a class, not a location’ (p. 88). Here she describes a phenomenon this reader never had words for, but recognised instantly. Lynch is that rare US writer who knows that class—not race or sexuality—is the great American taboo. Her fiction can be relied upon to show us characters not only of different classes, pace American denial, but of different ages and racial/ethnic backgrounds—and she introduces them effortlessly, because her dyke world cuts across all those lines. This diversity is one of the things lesbian and feminist literature was supposed to deliver. Lynch delivers.

Another thing Beggar of Love does, that novelists rarely achieve, is to keep the outcome for the hero in genuine doubt until the very last page. The reader comes to know Jefferson in all her charming, sometimes infuriating butch complexity, and Lynch honors her readers’ intelligence by giving Jefferson many dimensions. In bringing these fully to life, she also does justice to her character.

Nor is gender diversity absent from Beggar of Love. Like much of Lynch’s work it celebrates butch and femme, especially butch sexuality, as more than fixed references to one point in time. There are few male characters, although there are hints that Jefferson’s father, Jarvy, sought the company of other men while married to Jefferson’s mother. Jefferson seems to have inherited her father’s roving eye, as surely as his alcoholism. Jarvy’s story brings to mind the father’s tragedy in Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s graphic (in the sense of drawn media) memoir.

What takes the reader through the years and pages of this novel is, finally, the writing. ‘She’d been in love before, of course. Angela was still like ivy entwining her heart that some day would leave impressions, fossils of love, but her sensations now moved inside those ivied walls’ (p. 85). Jefferson’s feelings, if not her experiences, are universal. ‘Now that she knew she was capable of betrayal and inflicting pain in order to have what she wanted, she suspected everyone else in the world was capable of the same thing. She’d discovered that she couldn’t trust herself to honor what she’d thought she’d believed in. How could she now trust anyone else?’ (pp. 101-02)

Lee Lynch finds the words.

Beggar of Love (Bold Strokes Victory Editions)

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