Things in Print Thursday :: bless you Monica Nolan.

15 Dec

So when I was in high school Entertainment Weekly ran a review of a book entitled Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary. It was pure send-up retroesque pulp, complete with a whole lotta girl-on-girl.

My mother suggested I pick it up. I would not come out to her for another three and a half years. How did nobody know?

As per her recommendation, I acquired said book, authored by one Monica Nolan (I have yet to read her book of lesbian horse stories, but someday). And I devoured it. And I devoured it again. And I read it approximately ten times before drift partner said “hey, I saw this book called Someone, Lesbian Gym Teacher or something” and I immediately freaked out. There were more of them? But of course there were more of them!

It turns out they’re all freakish hard to find in real life, though, so finally I gave up and ordered them off of Amazon. And promptly devoured them all, too.

They’re really very straightforward books. A Sapphic protagonist, whose name is both alliterative and reminiscent of the 50s-60s when the books are set, makes a career decision that changes her life and circumstance; coincidentally, this surrounds her with other fabulous queer folk, several of whom she liaises with before finding her true lesbian love. Along the way, she and her friends also unravel some conspiracy or another, make uncanny observations about queer culture, and change their clothes a lot.

Each protagonist is a bit different (Lois Lenz is easily the naive one, discovering her passions for the first time; Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher is rather predictably the bluntest and the butchest; Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante is flighty and sociable, hard to pin down; Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady is mature and worldwise) and they seek different things with their peers. However, all of the stories take place in the same general community, and most of the characters at least know someone who knows another character in some way. It’s all very interconnected and charming.

There’s also a fair amount of metacommentary and era-typical nonsense squeezed into these silly little stories. There’s an entire subplot revolving around the real-life lesbian pulp industry; more than once there’s Communism scares; much is made of the supposed cultural superiority and conversely the gangland underbelly of… the Scandinavian community. The girls are often righteously indignant, working to make the world a better place, while also prioritizing helping each other out and supporting each other. It’s a rather rose-tinted sort of world, but it’s charming.

And though these are not subtle books, what with the word Lesbian boldly printed on the cover (and with that cover being borderline-cheesecakey, but tasteful), they really aren’t dirty at all. The sex is often brushed through with outlandish metaphors; the desire is treated similarly. Sometimes it seems like more time is spent describing what characters are wearing to romantic encounters than the actual physical acts – but that’s part of the entire aesthetic of vintage softcore smut. And at least this smut is tastefully written and doesn’t often feel uncomfortable (some sex scenes just do, that’s a fact).

In short: brava, madame.

–your fangirl heroine.



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