Book: Come and Go
Author: Lee Harlem Robinson
In so many ways, I am the daughter of fortune.
However, unlike Isabel Allende’s Eliza Sommers, I’m rarely mistaken for a homosexual man, even though the lady at the big Teeter (the local grocery store) calls me “sir” weekly.
In all seriousness, I had the advantage of growing up with an extended family—my mom’s dad lived with us from the time I was seven years old, and my dad’s mom lived only a few short miles away. And, we did most things together as a family—holidays, birthdays, church, Sunday dinners, and the annual town Chowder Day.
My grandmother and I were particularly close, and I spent a lifetime of summer mornings mowing her yard, which backed up to the local Free Methodist Church and Masonic Temple. Well, technically I was “trying” to mow her yard—even though she was sixty-nine years older than me, she was so concerned that I would succumb to the daunting heat and humidity that was prevalent in the soft white underbelly of the Wabash River Valley that she would “spell” me every ten or fifteen minutes.
Picture a bird-thin woman of eighty, wearing a dress and sensible shoes, pushing a lawn mower at Mach 2, stopping every three minutes to blow her nose and slip the Kleenex back into her dress sleeve for safe keeping.
After “I” was done mowing, my grandma would usher me into the house where she would feed me a feast of roast pork, rivels, cooked spinach with vinegar, green beans with bacon, and a gallon of sweet tea. To finish off, she’d ask, quite daintily, if I could “eat half a pie?”
After that, we’d do the dishes and retire to the living room to watch her “stories.” Most people refer to them as “soap operas,” but to a little old lady who got electricity, plumbing, and running water in her mid-seventies, they could be whatever she wanted them to be. Her favorites were the ABCs, that is, All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital. But, if something good was happening on one of the other networks or the writers were dragging their feet, she’d switch back and forth to Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light.
For the record, grandma never forgave Laura for stepping out on Scottie Baldwin with her ne’er do well rapist Luke Spencer (forgot that little tidbit, didn’t you); and she always thought Dr. Dorian Lord never got the gratitude she deserved for letting that scumbag pedophile, Victor Lord, die a slow, horrible, agonizing death. Oh, and she also thought Erica Kane made the right “choice” in 1973.
So, to a lot of people, soap operas are poorly written, badly acted, never-ending vacuums that suck up precious moments in life, never to be seen again. But, to my grandma, those chance meetings, coincidences, extramarital affairs, missed opportunities, secret relationships, unplanned conversions, last-minute rescues and revelations, and deus ex machina endings were grand and welcome entertainment after a life filled with hard work and sacrifice.
The story, Come and Go, by Lee Harlem Robinson is the very modern lesbian equivalent of the soaps of my youth, and a big, juicy story that would have kept my grandma well entertained.
To clarify things a bit, author Lee Harlem Robinson is in fact a fictional character created for the blog, Trying to Throw My Arms Around the World penned by real life author, Hannelore Arbyn. In this blog opera, Lee narrates the story of her work, life, love, heartbreak, and passage to Hong Kong. Come and Go picks up where Trying to Throw My Arms Around the World and the short story, “Dirty Pleasure,” end.
Lee Harlem Robinson’s love life has never been boring—she’s loves women, and women can’t seem to get enough of her. Well, that was true while she tripped the light fantastic in London and Paris. But now, her employer has shipped her off to the unforgiving city of Hong Kong—a gay man’s paradise and a lesbian’s long day’s journey into night
Lee’s life is filled with flirty and fabulous gay boys and bars galore. The only things missing are the lesbians. After a quick, one-night stand soon after she arrived, it took Lee months to find a hot, sexy, eligible lesbian. However, the lovely banker, Stella, dumps her for the ever-sexy CJ, and Lee finds that she can’t quit obsessing about Stella. Whether it’s Stella, raging hormones, or the fact that she doesn’t like losing, Lee spirals deeper and deeper into alcohol-induced despair. When all seems lost, she meets the hip and sexy Nikki, who is smart and secure in her wants and needs. The two immediately jump into bed, and then begin a relationship of sorts.
But, CJ suddenly dumps Stella, who immediately begins chasing Lee. To complicate things, Lee’s boss and former lover, Lucy, descends upon Hong Kong with lust in her eyes. Lee has a lot of choices to make, and each one seems worse than the last. Of course, Lee has a real problem with lying, and her confessions to Nikki lead her new girlfriend into the arms of another hip and sexy woman. So, Lee has a lot of decisions to make—risk it all again on Stella, risk losing Stella for Nikki, or keep making stupid decisions and loose them both?
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of Lee Harlem Robinson’s life…
Back over the summer, author Hannelore Arbyn asked if I would review Come and Go. I was intrigued by the story locale, and the fact that the main character was the “author,” so I immediately agreed. Of course, I had a long list of books to review, and it kept getting pushed further down the list. And then, a few weeks ago, I had the brilliant idea to buy three random short stories, and write up a review featuring them. Best laid plans, right? One of those short stories, “Dirty Pleasure,” by Lee Harlem Robinson was so strangely and unexpectedly compelling that I immediately dusted off my copy of Come and Go, and tucked into it.
Come and Go is equal parts funkysweetsexycool, and the writing manages to stay crisp and clean throughout the sordid story of the main character’s turbulent love life. Lee Harlem Robinson is truly a memorable character who is somehow able to keep the reader firmly in her corner in spite of her near constant self-pity, poor decision-making, and selfish choices. In many ways, she’s every woman—a character who is so much more real and vulnerable than the serialized pseudo lesbians littering large swaths of lesbian fiction.
Supporting Lee Harlem Robinson is a bevy of pretty gay boys, all richly and cleanly written. These handsome twinks, muscle boys, and Nellies dote on their appearance, flirt wildly with everyone, correct the fashion choices of lesbians, and surprisingly run much deeper and wider than anyone would ever credit them based on appearance alone. I appreciate the author’s use of them as a collective to advance the story incrementally, and as a means of comparing and contrasting attitudes and actions related to love, sex, and loyalty.
Come and Go’s character-rich trifecta is completed as the author manages to make the larger-than-life Hong Kong come alive with attitude and opportunity. Full of bright lights, endless hills, heat and humidity, and thrumming gay bars and discos, this vibrant metropolis manages in turns to be exhilarating and crowded and then soulless and lonely.
Simply stated, Come and Go is a slick and well-written episode of the blog opera Trying to Throw My Arms Around the World, and it continues the familiar pattern of the loves and loses of the expat, Lee Harlem Robinson. Moving effortlessly between sweet and sad emotions, and laugh-out-loud moments, it draws the reader in and makes you care. For the most part, the story moved quickly and effortlessly, and while it tended to drag on occasion, it always got back on track.
I got my love of these types of “stories” from my grandma, and I have no doubt she would have tuned in daily to find out what would happen next to the irrepressible Lee Harlem Robinson. So, give "Dirty Pleasure" a try—it’s free on Amazon and a quick read at 34 pages. Then, let me know whether or not you find yourself drawn in and wanting to see what happens next in Come and Go. For me, against my expectations, I was hooked.
So, in honor of grandma, I’m giving Come and Go a 4.8 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale