[Originally posted on Amazon 8/24/10]
I recently went on a lesbian 50’s pulp novel binge, reading Ann Bannon’s six books and two others that were mentioned in a couple Wikipedia articles (Women’s Barracks and Spring Fire). So I was delighted when it was pointed out to me on the Kindle forum that Lesbian Pulp Fiction, edited by Katherine V. Forrest, is available for the Kindle. (I’d heard of this book before, but hadn’t ever bothered buying or reading it.)
Reading the excerpts is fun and it’s a good way to decide what other titles I might want to track down for my collection. But information about lesbian pulps in general is what I was most interested in as a lesbian literature history lesson. The introduction gave a decent overview, but it left me wanting more, so there was a slight disappointment. Also, I noticed that there were a couple errors of fact in the intro, which I only noticed because I had already read the pulps mentioned above.
The information about the start of pulps, including lesbian pulps, was good. But most of the info was about specific titles and authors. Why did the pulp trend end? Why was there a lull in publishing lesbian books? Between the end of the pulp period and feminist and lesbian publishers finally obtaining a solid foothold in the early 80’s, not much was happening it seems. Or at least I’m not aware of what was going on (other than a couple authors), and I think exploring why and how things changed again would have been really informative and still tied in with the topic.
I suppose that’s of particular interest to me because I was a teen in the 70’s and there weren’t any lesbian books on the drugstore racks for me to stumble over. I was buying straight historical romances and bestsellers from the drugstore rack on my way home from school, and mostly oblivious to my own lesbianism. I could have used a bit of fictional enlightenment. It wasn’t until after I came out in the mid 80’s and actively tracked down lesbian books that I found them. I never would have guessed that, in this one regard at least, the 50’s and 60’s had an advantage.
One thing that the pulp books I’ve read, and the excerpts included in this book, have demonstrated to me is how surprisingly positive some of the books and stories are. I’ve always heard how it was required for there to be no happy endings, the women usually ending up dead or with a man. And yeah, some of that goes on in these pulp novels. There are lots of mentions of how sick or unnatural lesbians are, etc. And in a couple of Bannon’s books the characters are unlikable and commit reprehensible acts.
Yet it’s fascinating to see that many authors were getting around those restrictions and writing endings that weren’t completely negative from a lesbian point of view, and characters and relationships were often portrayed in an at least somewhat positive manner. I was especially surprised by the fairly blatant sex in some books. That whole idea of the 50’s being so repressed and uptight certainly isn’t supported here, and that has been a very interesting revelation for me, having been born in the early 60’s and my formative years taking place post-sexual revolution.
The other main thing that I thought was missing from this book was an introduction to each excerpt from the pulp novels. The cover art and jacket copy is included at the start for each one, but I was expecting Forrest to write her own blurb about why she chose to include each novel and excerpt. Lesbian Pulp Fiction would have had a lot more depth for me if that had been true.
Overall I still think this book is more than worth the money and time to read. It’s an important period in lesbian history and lesbian fiction that is still very obscure. Reading this book is educational, enlightening, and entertaining.
Kindle Note: Cleis Press unfortunately chose to do their Kindle edition in the Dreaded Topaz Format. This format is infamous among Kindle owners for the various problems it presents. In this specific case there are problems with letters in words being oddly spaced, either smooshed together or spaced far apart. Sometimes lines on the screen are oddly spaced also. But most frustrating are the images for each pulp novel excerpt. Not only is the cover an image, but the jacket copy that was on the front and back (much of it inflammatory or racy, and thus what you want to read!) is part of the image. That means it’s almost completely illegible when reading on the 6″ Kindle. They may fare better on the DX, but I don’t know.