Curious Wine, Katherine V Forrest

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I imagine that getting a lesbian love story published in 1983 must have been quite a chore.  After all, you couldn't really even talk about being a lesbian in 1983.  Writing a book about a lesbian affair, especially one with as much graphic sexuality as Curious Wine, seems pretty courageous.  So let's take a moment to honor that courage...ok, moment over...let's begin...

Curious Wine is the story of Diana and Lane, two women discovering they love women over a long weekend at a cabin in Lake Tahoe.  Drawn together by fate and irresistible desire, and unbeknownst to anyone else, they create a small lesbian oasis in the room they share.  Surrounding these two are a group of women, mostly in their 40s, in varying states of relationship with men.

The fact that this book was published in 1983 shows in the way that the characters relate to each other.  I had to think of the book the same way I think about an exhibit in a museum.  Dated, an object from another time to examine and study.  For a third wave feminist such as myself, it was hard to feel a kinship with any of the women, defined as they are by their relationships (or lack of relationships) with men.  There was Liz, the bitter divorcee; Madge, the "progressive" woman in an open marriage, though only her husband ever dabbled;  Chris, the spinster; and Viviane, who decided to forgo staying at the cabin with the rest of the women so she could stay in town with her boyfriend.  The main characters were equally stereotypical.  Diana had just come out of a bad break-up, a relationship which followed a bad marriage.  In trying to deny her lesbian feelings, she picks up a man in a bar who ends up assaulting her, thereby driving her into the arms of a woman.  Lane had briefly had a wonderful relationship with a man, only to be devastated when he died in Viet Nam.  She then spent the next several years being rather promiscuous, which I think the author wanted us to perceive as forward thinking and strong on her part, but which came off as desperate.  At one point in the book the women play some encounter games, the kind popular in the 1970s, and all of the negative female stereotypes of competition, jealousy, and apologizing for having ideas and opinions comes out clearly.  Maybe the author herself was struggling with how to be a woman in the age of the ERA-if so, her struggle is evident in her portrayal of these women.

As a lesbian myself, I hoped to feel some kinship with the two woman-loving women in the book.  I did feel a connection with Lane's character, a take-charge lawyer who refuses to be drawn into the other women's drama during the encounter games.  Lane was the character most like me.  As a teen and young adult she had intense feelings towards other girls, but didn't recognize them for what they were, or suppressed them out of guilt and fear about being a lesbian.  I didn't recognize my own first crushes for what they were, either, though I was saddled with WAY less guilt and shame coming out in 2000.  Sadly, that is where any identification I felt with the characters ended.  Do I think that trying to run away from your same-sex feelings and hiding from the world is historically accurate?  Of course.  I just don't think that this novel does a great job of making the reader feel like they are part of the story, and therefore experiencing the past in a way that speaks to the now.  Anyone who has read Stone Butch Blues or Ruby Fruit Jungle has had that experience.  This novel just didn't rise to that level.

I looked up this author before writing this post, and she has written many books and won numerous awards from gay literary organizations.  I suppose there is something to be said for reading Curious Wine as a primary source for the development of feminism and gay identified literature.  In that sense, it is very much like a museum exhibit-you'll learn something about the past, but in such a way that you can't really touch it.


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