Saturday, August 31, 2002

Body Check: Erotic Lesbian Sports Stories

Nicole Foster, editor
Alyson Books

You don't have to be a jock to enjoy this book. Nicole Foster, who has edited several collections for Alyson, has filled a team roster of 20 erotic lesbian sports stories with a range of sporting women and lots of intense, sweaty moments. There are Olympic hopefuls in the bittersweet "The Art of Running" by Rosalind C. Lloyd; while M. Christian provides a mesmerizing view of an up-and-coming swimmer's relationship with water in "Naiad." Unsurprisingly, those popular lesbian team sports are represented. Volleyballs are "Spiked" by Laurel Hayworth, in a story about healing old wounds and looking for greener courts. "Legend of Teddi Jo" by Gina Ranalli has a few things to say about softball and doing what and whom one loves.

Lest one think this anthology is mostly for the fiercely athletic, there are several amusing entries that feature women who, well, never really passed the President's Council on Physical Fitness Awards in school. Like the delightfully Walter Mitty-esque, adolescent "butch in training" starring in "Black Belt Theater" by Catherine Lundoff, and finding herself along the way. There's the strangely sweet encounter with rock climbing in "Going Up" by Anne Seale as a woman frees herself from a dead-end relationship and finds her own strength. Trixi's "Mulligan on the Green" is the charming story of golf and a young fan on her 18th birthday.

Perhaps this reader's favorite -- for the narrator's sharp wit and cynical view of aerobics -- is Dawn Dougherty's "Sports Dyke." The unnamed, less fit narrator decides to take a class after chatting with a woman in the locker room. After all she muses, "I've done worse things than yoga to get a girl horizontal." (196) The class and the evening hold a few surprises and the woman discovers a "gym that satisfies all [her] needs." (205)

The stories in Body Check include a wide range of sports, athletic skill, dynamics, humor, characters, and settings. This anthology should be part of every lesbian's sports gear. As Foster urges in her introduction, readers will be inspired to get sweaty tonight.

-MJ Lowe

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Madam President

Blayne Cooper and T. Novan
Renaissance Alliance Publishing (November 2001)

The year is 2020 and the United States has, for the first time, elected as president, a woman. Blayne Cooper and T. Novan present this fascinating premise in Madam President. Yet, it seems very unlikely that the first woman president will be 38 years old, a single (actually widowed), openly lesbian, mother of three, which describes Devlyn Marlowe. Cognizant of the history making role of her administration, Devlyn has chosen a successful young historian/writer to observe her term in office and act as her biographer. Thus Lauren Strayer enters the White House and prepares to chronicle Devlyn's administration for history. The novel follows the events of the first year of her term.

Despite the premise, Madam President does not succeed as a futuristic political yarn. Novan and Cooper make reference to a number of interesting issues and incidents in Madam President, including Devlyn as a successful third party candidate, the trauma of domestic terrorism, the changes in gay and lesbian civil rights issues, and an international arms crisis; but there is little exploration of these issues. While the writers clearly researched the primary setting of the White House, the creative detail in their view of the U.S. 18 years from now is thin and it does not prompt the reader to consider possible changes in the coming years.

Instead the novel focuses primarily on the relationship between Marlowe and Strayer as it evolves from professional respect to personal friendship and romantic attraction. However, for this reader, the more than 300 pages of courting and foreplay became tedious. They are marked with cliché and repetitive incidents; such as the illness/recovery theme with three serious health problems between the two leads in less than six months. Indeed more personal and political crises occur in the first year of Devlyn's term than many Presidents ever see. And they apparently occur primarily to postpone the consummation of the couple's love, which began to feel saccharine after a while. This combination of elements feels like a caricature of the Xena uber genre, from which the story originated.

Several of the comic scenes felt too predictable. The lead characters did not come alive for this reader. The somewhat slapstick quality of the humor is belittling of the premise, given that other elements were not fleshed out to provide balance. Indeed some of the humor slips into what this reader considers dangerous territory. For example, Strayer writes a popular fictional adventure series under a pseudonym. When she considers having the lead character come out as a lesbian, her editor warns her that research shows one-third of Strayer's readers would lose interest unless there "was a sex scene every 63.4 pages." (323) Thus Strayer's readers, and potentially by extension, Novan and Cooper's readers are lampooned. For the humor it provides, this scene was annoying.

For this reader, Madam President is disappointing, both as a speculative futuristic political tale and as a lesbian love story. Certainly there are several amusing and charming moments in the novel. One of the funniest is when Devlyn, who would have been in her teens during the original run of the Xena television show, recalls her frustration and disappointment with the writers and producers failure to present the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle as an open lesbian couple. By contrast, Cooper and Novan's Road to Glory is very charming as a fantasy and an erotic, romantic love story. Cooper's Story of Me which satires a range of subjects, manages to tap into a genuine counter balancing sweetness that is not present in Madam President. As other reviews point out, many readers might feel quite differently about Madam President; however, this reader would prefer their future novels be more like Road to Glory or Story of Me.

-MJ Lowe
BN: This title has been released several times now, I don't know if any significant changes have occurred.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Above All Honor

Justice House Publishing

The Secret Service in Radclyffe's Above All Honor has their hands full. They are trying to guard Blair Powell, the daughter of the President of the United States. Blair, a prominent artist in bohemian art circles of NYC, has grown tired of the oppressive consequences of her father's political career. The polished, beautiful, and politically savvy, Blair is willing to play her role within reason -- speaking for special events, sponsoring charities and making appearances in political venues that are all accepted parts of her public persona; however, she is tired of the constant invasion into her personal life. In her private life Blair is unabashedly lesbian. That private life her father prefers she at least keep discrete. Frustration has led Blair to taunt, tease, annoy and evade the security detail whenever possible. She leads them on merry chases through a range of ... bars in the city, particularly enjoying opportunities to lose the easily spotted "straight laced" agents in one of the leather clubs. Much to the embarrassment of the agents, Blair is quite skilled at her disappearing act.

Senior Agent Cameron Roberts has just been given a clean bill of health after a near fatal shooting during an undercover operation that went badly. Displeased with her new assignment in charge of a security duty for the President's daughter, Roberts quickly realizes that her own lesbian identity is one of the reasons for it. Roberts is determined to treat Blair with as much respect and professionalism as possible without being stymied by her little games. Despite her handsome, butch lesbian, appearance, Roberts seems immune to Blair's charms. This impression is not entirely true of Roberts, but Blair is quite willing to rise to the challenge of the enigmatic agent. Both women carry painful secrets in their past making the possibility of a romance professional inappropriate and personally difficult. No light romantic comedy, the courtship dance in Above All Honor has an edgy, tense quality, although at times it is predictable. Meanwhile, Roberts' charge to protect Blair becomes more challenging when she begins to receive "gifts" from a stalker.

A fast-paced read, Above All Honor has some entertaining and erotic elements. It does not, however, entirely succeed as an "action and suspense thriller" reinterpreted through a lavender lens. The novel is too short in that it leaves too many questions unanswered and too many allusions unexplained. Blair and Robert's pasts are hinted at, but not explored enough for this reader. Blair's behavior almost goes too far for her to be "redeemable" without more background. And one storyline is left hanging in an un-fulfilling, even annoying, manner. Because of the weak character development and the incomplete plot, Above All Honor does not hold up to the promise of Love's Melody Lost, Radclyffe's lavender, tongue-in-cheek tribute to gothic romances. Hopefully, Radclyffe will find better ways to express these elements in future stories.

-MJ Lowe

BN: Above All Honor was re-release in an all new, expanded edition by Bookends Press in 2002 and again by Bold Strokes Books in 2004.