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The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories


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Showing the full range of fictional expression, this adventurous anthology opens with Sarah Orne Jewett's 1897 story, ``Martha's Lady,'' a delicate yet impassioned evocation of a furtive lesbian love and closes with Jeanette Winterson's lyrical, uninhibited ``The Poetics of Sex'' (1993). Its 32 selections trace a historical pattern in lesbian experience as it moves from invisibility and ambivalence to greater self-acceptance. Many of the pieces are experimental, such as Kathy Acker's sardonic dream vision of heterosexual marriage, and Canadian Nicole Brossard's incantatory monologue meant to close the distance between the speaker, her mother, her daughter and her lover. Among the authors--lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual--are Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Katherine Mansfield, Colette, Anais Nin, Isak Dinesen, Monique Wittig, Sara Maitland and Pat Califia. Two pieces feature pictures: Alison Bechdel's comic strip ``Serial Monogamy,'' whose disillusioned protagonist forces readers to reexamine set attitudes about lesbians and straights; and Djuna Barnes's 17th-century pastiche ``Ladies Almanack'' (1928), a daybook of the exploits of a much-in-demand hostess complete with woodcuts. Reynolds, who has written abiography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, enlarges the dimensions of the lesbian experience in this rewarding omnibus. (Jan.)

In the last half-dozen years, collections of lesbian plays, coming-out stories, mysteries, and poetry have been published, mostly by small presses. Now, The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories strides into place alongside the others. This book takes the long perspective, reaching back to Sarah Orne Jewett at the turn of the century, Radclyffe Hall in the Thirties, and Isak Dinesen and Ann Bannon in the late Fifties. Stretching forward, it encompasses contemporary writers such as Jewelle Gomez, Emma Donoghue, Dorothy Allison, and Jeannette Winterson, who supplied the introduction. These stories are like a thick stew containing many types of characters in different settings. Rarely, the editor clarifies a passage with a note, more of which would have been helpful. As Virginia Woolf notes in A Room of One's Own , ``It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, . . . for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?'' The many talented writers published here reveal the truth of that assertion. For any public library where demand for short stories is great.-- Lisa Nussbaum, Euclid P.L., Ohio

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