Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review- Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon

Odd Girl Out
Beebo Brinker Vol. 1
by Ann Bannon
Original Pub 1957
Ebook version April 2008
Retro/ Lesbian/ M/F

Buy it Amazon (Hard copy), Fictionwise & Renaissance E Books (ebook format) $4.99 for two books

The Classic of Lesbian Life and Love in the 1950s! Meet Bebo, Laura and the other women who lived in the shadows of the Village at the dawn of the gay revolution. Peek inside the bedrooms and bars where their nightly transactions take place, and learn how they felt and how they made love.

Firstly, I have to say that the ebook I bought has two books in it, but I wanted to separate the reviews. For this review I’m doing the first book Odd Girl Out, which is the start of Laura’s journey and which continues in I Am a Woman, Who Loves a Woman. I will review that at a later date.

Laura is a freshman in college and meets a striking girl, Beth, in the student union. Beth seems to have it all: she’s beautiful, has poise and charisma and people just naturally gravitate to her and follow her lead. Beth takes an interest in Laura and invites her to join her sorority Alpha Beta, which Laura does. Because of Beth’s influence, Laura gets placed in the same room as Beth and Emmy, Beth’s best friend since childhood.

Laura is a shy, quiet girl, coming from a broken home, which she’s ashamed of. She gloms onto Beth, who even though popular, is fed up with dating and sticks to herself except where Laura is concerned. Laura responds to Beth’s interest and they get very close. One night, they end up in bed together comforting each other and find themselves doing more than talking. Thus starting a secret relationship between them that neither really question too much although they realize that they are doing something wrong.

There’s a glitch in this cozy little set up though. Beth meets Charlie, an acquaintance of Laura and feels a magnetic attraction to him, which she can’t ignore. She ends up trying to hide her relationship with Charlie so she won’t hurt Laura. This all plays out until things come to a head and Beth must decide who she wants.

I’ve been very attracted to retro book covers and this got me interested to see if there were any retro lesbian books. I came across Ann Bannon who is considered to be the queen and forerunner in the lesbian story genre. I was very curious about what sort of conflicts, ideas, and concepts about being a lesbian were prevalent during the ’50’s and this book was great for that. It’s also very well written and timeless in expressing human emotion and same sex love.

What was a surprise reading this book is that this is actually a triangle story with Beth really being bisexual. Or let’s say that she kind of falls into a sexual relationship in a “gay for you” type of way because before Laura, she’s never really had anything with a woman. She ends up with Laura because, so far, no man has been able to do anything for her, especially sexually and being with Laura opens her up for the first time.

She is described as craving love as she never had it as a child. Until Laura, she slept around trying to get that love, but always felt empty and unsatisfied with the men she’s been with and decided that she was doomed to be alone. So when Laura comes along and adores her so much, she responds to it. Even though she does love Laura though, she treats her like a child, trying to protect her from hurt, feeling responsible for her, which tires her at times.

When Beth meets Charlie and they have beautiful, loving sex, for the first time she gets what she’s been craving from men and she understands then that what she feels for Laura is not quite the same. She wants to fall into Charlie's arms and be taken care of and understood, which he does. Beth’s constant struggle around what she feels is very realistically portrayed interesting to follow.

Laura is clueless before she meets Beth that she’s really a lesbian and even denies that she’s queer until Beth puts it right out there that what they are doing is definitely queer. I love how she grows up during this story. In the beginning and through most of the book, she’s so jealous of anyone who has Beth’s attention, especially Charlie, and she pouts and whines to Beth trying to keep them apart. She’s always begging Beth to be with her and it gets pathetic at times. In the end though she comes to terms with what’s real and she takes a stand for her own truth even if it’s not what she thought she wanted.

A surprisingly interesting character in all of this is Charlie. He’s originally a player, but he really falls hard for Beth and knows that she loves him. When she breaks it off with him so she won’t hurt Laura, he really fights hard for her and is willing understand where she’s coming from, even if it hurts him. Seriously, this guy is the perfect hero type character and I really liked him. I could see how Beth would fall in love with him.

Actually the love between Charlie and Beth was portrayed as very passionate with an intense sexual heat and deep love between them and I felt more about those two than Beth and Laura. The relationship between Beth and Laura was too co-dependant and came across as vacillating between being sweet and needy coming from Laura’s POV. Basically Beth more or less loves Laura but isn’t in-love with Laura and sticks with her because she feels bad for her in a way. So this isn’t a true lesbian story, although it’s a story about awakening in that area.

The only issue I had was one thing that I have complaint about in many lesbian stories and that’s the constant emo going on between the characters. Beth and Laura are always discussing, angsting and ruminating about what they feel and it got to be too much. It does enter Peyton Place-ville at times.

Aside from the triangle going on, a fun aspect of reading this book was the trends and ideas prevalent during the 50’s. How “good and proper” women were expected to behave and that they were supposed to be virgins until marriage, although everyone was having sex. As long at it was in secret and no one got caught it was all OK. Also how one wrong move could get you ostracized by the whole university, your sorority and town you came from. It did bring up childhood feelings and impressions I had and remember from the 60’s. It’s just interesting to see how much has changed for women and lesbians.

I’ll definitely be getting some more of Ann Bannon’s books. The writing is smooth and her character and relationship development is very in depth and real. I loved this book.

Sex rating: Dry panties- just minor alluding to sex. Kissing. Awww…

Grade: B++

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