Monday, June 11, 2012

Everything Pales in Comparison by Rebecca Swartz

Book:  Everything Pales in Comparison
Author:  Rebecca Swartz
Publisher:  Bella Books

June is Pride Month, the High Holiday for all of modern queer culture.  

For lesbians, one of the most empowering aspects of Pride is the annual Dyke March, which was first organized in 1993 by the Lesbian Avengers as a protest during the March on Washington. Today, Dyke Marches are held in more than a dozen U.S, cities, as well as a growing list of cities all over the world. And, while I lived in Washington, D.C. for more than twenty years, pound for pound, the best Dyke March going takes place in New York City. 

It’s large, it’s loud, and it’s the only Dyke March featuring the Nudist Socialist Lesbians.

Back in the mid-nineties, I routinely made the sojourn to NYC for Pride Weekend.  One of my closest friends is a New Jersey Filipina named Becky. She always offered a place for me to stay, insisted that I join her parents for homemade Laing, and required me to join Kilawin Kolektibo in the Dyke March. 

If your Tagalog is a bit rusty, Kilawin Kolektibo is loosely translated as “Hot and Spicy Pinay Collective.” 

The year was 1995, and as tens of thousands of lesbians rallied in front of the New York Public Library before the start of the march, the conversation amongst my Kilawin counterparts centered on who, among the throngs of dykes surrounding us, was most compelling to each of us. 

I know, I’m sorry, but when 20,000 lesbians surround you, the inner pig in all of us comes rolling out in all her twitchy glory.

It was a moveable feast of women in all colors, shapes, and sizes. There were stone butches, soft butches, and femmes. Bois, baby dykes, tomboys, and girls-next-door.  There were even plenty of twitchy little dykes just like me.  It was a veritable cornucopia of all things lesbian.  So, when it was finally my turn to pick, I pointed towards a tall, athletic blonde, ably filling out a tight pink t-shirt and shorts, striped knee socks, and wearing roller skates.  

As an aside, I’m not normally the kind of girl to go for either hot pink or roller skates, but for this celestial creature, I easily and gladly made the exception.

Several members of my group playfully encouraged me to go over and introduce myself, and one even offered to walk over and do it for me.  I was just about convinced to screw my courage to the sticking place, when my dream girl turned around and smiled brightly at me—high cheekbones, Carolina blue eyes, an aquiline nose, and a full platinum blonde mustache.

[insert record scratch]

Full mustache?

Not just a full mustache, but a handlebar mustache, the kind with curly waxed tips—rendering her more than a tad reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este.

Everything Pales in Comparison, the debut novel by author Rebecca Swartz tells the story of two women with more in common than they realize.  Constable Emma Kirby, working security at a concert featuring an up-and-coming country singer swings into motion when a bomb explodes on stage, gravely injuring singer/songwriter Daina Buchanan.  Her instincts and quick actions save the life of the singer, and make her a reluctant hero.  After awakening from a coma, Daina’s mother sets up a visit between the two women, so her daughter can say ‘thank you’ in person.  Sparks fly, but neither woman considers the other a viable option for romance.

A few days later, Emma, returning home from work, finds a note threatening both her life and the life of Daina.  In no time, Winnipeg’s finest springs into action to protect both women and find the Unsub.  Since there are no clues as to the Unsub’s identity, both women are reluctantly placed into a safe house, with Emma acting a dual role as threatened party and Daina’s bodyguard.

Almost immediately, the walls between the two women begin to crumble, and they grow closer together.  Neither is looking for a relationship, and both try hard to avoid it.  But, the attraction is too much, and just as they begin to weigh some sort of a future together, all hell breaks loose as the rapidly decompensating Unsub moves in for the kill.

Everything Pales in Comparison is a well-written and edgy page-turner that features a compelling fusion of romance and thriller. The pacing is brisk and the main characters are equal parts strong and vulnerable.  The writing is clean and crisp, sometimes surprising with a well-timed turn-of-phrase or an unexpected change in perspective; and the dialogue joyously sidesteps hackneyed clichés and dime store dramatics.

If anything though, Everything Pales in Comparison is a book sporting an identity crisis. While it is rightly a compelling fusion of romance and thriller, it suffers in that it is both and neither. 

The romance between Emma and Daina is immediate, but not fast or certain, and the characters must both stare down demons and make extraordinary leaps of faith to trust one another. It is both believable and satisfying that they fall in love. However, the sweetest aspects of the romance are often lost among the gritty elements of the thriller

Likewise, the thriller within this novel speaks volumes to suspense, tension, anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, and surprise—it even features literary devices like the red herring and plot twist.  However, much like the case above, the very best aspects of the thriller are often lost among the softer elements of the romance.

Still, Everything Pales in Comparison is a rock-solid debut, and Rebecca Swartz is a strong, talented writer with a long future in Lesfic ahead.  This story offers believable characters, an exciting plot, robust dialogue, and a petal-to-the-metal ending that will leave the reader breathless.  I’m giving it a 4.8 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.


  1. Fantastic review! Thank you. I am on my way to purchase the book now. --BK Loren