Thursday, May 30, 2013

Women Float by Maureen Foley

Book: Women Float
Author: Maureen Foley
Publisher: CCLaP Publishing

Be II by Barnett Newman
Several years ago, I took a day trip to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which houses one of the finest art collections in the world—its galleries and Sculpture Garden feature a veritable treasure trove of European and American paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, and decorative arts.  

While I can’t claim to be a true aficionado of fine art, I can most certainly appreciate the masterpieces by artists such as Raphael, El Greco, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rodin, Delacroix, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, and Botticelli. 

However, I admit to being stumped when I wandered across the painting titled Be II by an artist named Barnett Newman.

“What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man's fall and an assertion that he return to the Garden of Eden? For the artists are the first men.”           
— Barnett Newman

At the time, I had no clue that Mr. Newman was one of the major figures in abstract expressionism, and one of the foremost of the color field painters. All I knew was that he had a square white painting with a black line on one side and an orange line on the other side hanging right there in the middle of the National Gallery of Art.

Well, that, and the fact that it looked suspiciously like something I’d drawn with crayons and cream-colored construction paper way back in Kindergarten. For the sake of argument, I’ll call it, Still Life with Milk Carton.

Onement VI by Barnett Newman
The Newman painting was confusing, but I did what I normally do, which was to tell myself, “Appreciation of art, like so many things in life, is entirely subjective.” Be that as it may, I almost coughed up a lung when I read that Barnett Newman’s Onement VI was sold at Sotheby’s for $43.8 million dollars only a few weeks ago. 

The flier for the sale poetically proclaimed, “Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary zip.”

"Revolutionary zip," my ass, it’s a white line.

But I digress.

Women Float by Maureen Foley is every bit as cinematic as it is literary, and traces the life of lonely pastry chef and pathological liar, Win, who lives a very un-Californian existence. Despite growing up in a sleepy seaside town, she never quite learned how to swim. For most non-swimmers, this is an uncomfortable fact of life, but for Win, it’s the defining state of her very existence—especially since Win’s mom, Janie, a pro-surfer consumed by wanderlust, left only days after plucking her water-challenged nine-year old daughter from the foamy depths of the ocean.

After obsessing about the fate of her mother and her inability to swim for twenty years, Win finally confronts her guilt and hydrophobia and signs up for swimming lessons, hoping for insight into why her mother hit the road all those years ago. As she comes to terms with the stark revelation that her phobia is about much more than water, she learns that her granola-loving next-door girl crush has life plans that include a lot more than just her. Reeling with a new-found appreciation for the edges on her life, Win takes a long, hard look at all that she has and has not become, awakening to the fact that she is more like Janie than she ever dared imagine.

Women Float is the lyrical diary of a life half lived, bursting to the seams with self-reflection and self-abasement. Win is a sad, distracted, and lost soul, whose most precious memory, her ninth birthday, is inexplicably linked to being abandoned by her mother. Her friendships have a depth and momentum that are built on acceptance and trust, and even strangers find themselves invested in helping her to wade out further into the waters of her existence. But Win remains rooted to the edge of her life, until she begins to accept that women float, and finally she rises to the surface of her life, floating on the tides and moving with the currents.

Maureen Foley’s fiction debut paints a poetic tale, teeming with subtle humor and brimming with the rich essence of a small coastal town. Her characters are well defined, yet splashed with odd bits of eccentricity and pathos, and her dialogue is apropos of all things Southern California. Her story has a gentle cadence, much like a soothing rhythm—ebbing and flowing, rising and falling. Her mermaid metaphors are worth the price of admission.

Women Float tells the coming out story of a lesbian, but it’s not a lesbian coming out story. It is literature and it is poetry, and it is an insightful look into the life of a woman on the verge of something massive. It manages to be a gentle parable, even though it is neither soft nor sweet.

Now, as I think back to my reaction to Barnett Newman’s Be II and Onement VI, I undeniably know that some readers will appreciate this novella for all that it is, and others simply will not, for myriad reasons. 

Either way, Women Float is undeniably art.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Lesfic Boomtown Foretold: A Cautionary Tale by Salem West

We are here.
The Rainbow Reader is primarily a blog that features book reviews, but as the evil mastermind behind the Pretty, Witty & Gay brand, I like to think it serves a wider purpose: to get readers to think more critically about what they are reading, to get authors to write more readable books, and to get publishers to offer a higher quality of product.

It was not so many years ago that we, as lesbians, were thankful to have a whispered voice in literature. 

It came wrapped in brown butcher’s paper with no return address. It sat on the bottom bookshelf on the back wall of some small, nondescript bookstore somewhere. It rarely dared to view the bright light of day, much less dream of a life lived within the hallowed halls of small town libraries or college classrooms across the land.

With all due respect to Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, “…time changes everything.”

Today, lesbian fiction is a thriving art and commerce, and it’s once whispered voice has become a full-throated warble—authors are bursting out of the proverbial closet, readers are gleefully buying books in bushel baskets, and publishers are releasing unprecedented volumes of titles in every size, shape, and flavor imaginable. Colleges and universities the world over are offering classes in queer literature, and companies like Follett Library Resources and Ingram Content Group are providing physical and digital lesbian content to more than 40,000 retailers, libraries, schools and distribution partners in 195 countries.

Heck, lesbian fiction has become such a hot commodity, that even straight writers are cashing in on the voracious appetite of the fiction-starved lesbian reader.

However, this is a cautionary tale…

Growth is a good thing. But too much growth too quickly can easily overwhelm an industry, and put it at high risk of collapsing (with all due credit to Eddie Izzard) like a flan in a cupboard.

Simply put, unchecked expansion can cause big problems. Think "too much change, too fast," the prophetic thesis set forth in the bestseller, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. A huge rise in product demand combined with overly ambitious plans to forge new sales markets, expand production, and offer new product lines—can easily compromise or topple any number of entities within that expanding industry.  

Take for instance, the case of how mighty Toyota Motor's unchecked growth led to safety issues and massive recalls, which then resulted in a significant and ongoing loss of market share. Toyota had traditionally focused on safety, quality and volume, in that order. Yet, by their own admission, those priorities became skewed, and corporate decision-makers were not able to stop, think, and make improvements as much as they were able to before. In essence, they pursued growth over the speed at which the company was able to develop their people, their products, and their organizational structure. Toyota executives, like many at flourishing companies, lost sight of the mission that paved the way for initial success.

As an avid reader, I have been consuming lesbian fiction for the better part of my adult life.

However, as a reviewer, I have been focusing on the finer technical and editorial points of lesfic for the last two years. As much as I try, I can’t review every book that comes my way. Still, I read plenty of books that are never in contention for reviews—these are books that end up on my “readlist” for myriad reasons. On the one hand, I have witnessed an exciting explosion of talented authors flooding the landscape while the number of available and easily accessed titles has grown exponentially. And, on the other hand, I have slogged my way through more scarcely conceived, poorly written, barely edited pieces of flotsam than I can count.

That last line sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it?

It’s meant to be.

Regardless of which side you take in the great More Sex/Less Sex/No Sex Debate, story quality and readability are suffering. Grammar has become an option, idioms are horribly mangled, em and en dashes are used with reckless abandon, dangling participles have reached epidemic proportions, comma splices are enthusiastically embraced, spell check is nearing obsolescence, and perfectly good subjunctives are butchered for no plausible reason. Conflict is grossly contrived. Milquetoast characters populate a landscape that is far too often skewed toward unbalanced narrative, and then littered with choppy dialogue. And authors randomly violate the logic of their narrative points of view.

So it is perfectly clear, that this is (mostly) an industry-wide pandemic.

It affects not only self-published authors and micropublishers, but also the lesfic industry leaders. Authors and publishers who are too focused on swelling revenue, increased publicity, and pressing production rates run the risk of overlooking what made the readers flock to their books in the first place. And, as the novelty of the All You Can Read Lesfic Bar phenomena begins to wear off for the readers, it will be those few publishers and authors who have paid attention to detail, adopted sustainable publishing and writing practices, and emphasized quality that will survive.


Quality never goes out of style.

This is a cautionary tale.