Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sweet Creek

Lee Lynch
Bold Strokes Books
1933110295, $15.95

Drop a line in the waters of Sweet Creek! From the pen of the venerable lesbian author Lee Lynch comes a novel set in the small rural community of Waterfall Falls, Oregon, at the turn of the millennium and populated by an amusingly high volume of lesbians. One character suggests an inverted energy draws women to the community.

"A dyke vortex. I like it." Chick made a mental note to suggest it to the sheriff, a native who was completely baffled, and not particularly pleased, at the disproportionate numbers of lesbians in Elk County

.... [Jeep responds] "Cool beans! I moved to the poor dyke's Palm Springs."

"Yeah," added Donny. "We don't golf, we fish." (60)

The heart of the area's queer community rests in Natural Woman Foods, a small organic general store and cafe run by ex-hippie, earth-mother dyke, Chick, and her tough but mellowing, working-class, former player, butch partner Donny. Together nearly a decade, the two are struggling with the changes of advancing crone-hood. Chick has a family history of mental illness and worries her current struggle with depression might be symptomatic of something worse. Meanwhile men from their pasts are stirring trouble for both women.

If Natural Woman Foods is the heart of the community, Chick is its reigning queen, er, "femme in charge." (34) She looks after several women in this role, and has many amused, often indulgently affectionate observations about butches, the butch/femme dance in general, and the changes she's seen in community politics (gay and straight).

Up and coming television reporter, Katie, with her flame of the moment, Jeep, arrives looking for something new for her life. She finds herself quickly enamored with the leader of the women's land, a fierce, enigmatic woman named Rattlesnake, or R for short. Katie consequently develops an interest in documenting the struggles the local separatist commune has with the traditional logging industry.

Soon, Jeep, (a melding of "G. P." for Gina Pauline) who appeared in Waterfall Falls sporting a city-styled buzz haircut and a restless attitude, finds herself nursing a broken heart, looking for a new place to live, scrambling to make a living, and trying to sort out what she wants to do with her life. Jeep's coming of age is one of the themes of Sweet Creek and several of the story threads depict transitional life periods.

As is frequently the case with small communities, everyone seems to know everyone else's business. Still, a few surprises arise over the course of the book. Lynch portrays this ensemble cast of charming and interesting characters with humor and insight. Sweet Creek originally appeared as a series of short-short stories in Girlfriends Magazine and the brief episodic structure has been retained in the chapters. This allows for bite-sized consumption of the various storylines that struck this reader as a dyke hybrid of Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and Maupin's Tales of the City series. While this format makes for easy episodic reading, it sometimes results in meandering plotlines that might distract some readers and could have benefited from some tighter editing. Nevertheless, Sweet Creek is filled with engaging life stories and charming snapshots of the locale. Fans of Lynch are bound to enjoy Sweet Creek, and hopefully new readers will discover her work as well.

-MJ Lowe

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