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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller 
1st-Dec-2006 09:07 pm
As you can see, I'm still slowly but surely slogging my way through this list:

Miller, Isabel. Patience & Sarah. 1969. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005.
          Summary: Originally titled A Place for Us. Early 19th century America. Painter Patience White and Sarah Dowling, a farmer's daughter raised by her father like a boy, meet by chance and soon fall in love. The younger Sarah is determined to make her way in the world with a farm of her own and invites Patience along, but Patience, afraid of social approbation, refuses, and Sarah ends up traveling with a bookselling parson for a year and failing to free herself permanently from her family. Upon her return, however, Patience proves to have had a change of heart, and now SHE is the one who wants the two to live alone together. Patience convinces her brother to buy her out of her inheritance, and the two women purchase a farm ninety miles north of New York City.
          Comments: Okay, so I didn't believe for a second that two 19th century American woman were ACTUALLY narrating this charming little novel...but who cares? The novel's accessible and largely modern prose allows the sheer joy and exuberance of the story to shine through and allows its writer Alma Routsong (under the pseudonym Isabel Miller) to tackle a wealth of feminist and lesbian dilemmas without seeming unnecessarily didactic. Sarah's realization that she cannot simply become a female man in order to ease her interactions with either Patience or society at large is an important one, and she grapples on numerous occasions with the impossible with just to become male so that she can get what she wants without having to fight for it. Also lovely was Patience's way of arguing Sarah into leaving with her; the inconvenience of traveling in inclement weather to each others' homes and hiding the true extent of their affections from their families becomes increasingly untenable the longer they do it.
          I was also delighted by the sympathy with which ALL of the characters in this novel are treated--there are no villains or apparent writerly grudges against, say, parents here. The enemy of the heroines is societal and religious institutions. Moreover, all of the supporting characters find an uncomfortable fit with some aspect of those institutions. Patience's brother Edward, for example, is, in spite of himself, intrigued and perhaps aroused by the idea of two women together, while Dan Peel is attracted to Sarah when he believes that she is a boy. In short, Routsong makes a concerted effort to embrace the whole of human sexual variation with compassion and tolerance. And, in my opinion, that's the absolute best way of going about writing a book about minority issues: Prove that you're better than your oppressors by refusing to roll over your grievances into more hate and oppression.
          Notes: trade paperback, Little Sister's Classics edition, 1st printing
          Rating: 6.5/10 - A delightful, humane novel that transcends its classic lesbian romance niche and is sure to be appreciated by anyone who enjoys an author with a sweet yet unassuming voice of hope.
2nd-Dec-2006 02:25 am (UTC)
:) See, unlike the last lesbian novel you reviewed, this one I loved. :)
2nd-Dec-2006 03:03 am (UTC)
Which proves...what, exactly? ^_~
2nd-Dec-2006 02:34 am (UTC)
there are no villains or apparent writerly grudges against, say, parents here.


Or maybe against the aunt and uncle who took you in and treated you like a son?

Umm, happy ending? I wish someone would whisk me away to a nice farm 90 miles north of NYC ^_^
2nd-Dec-2006 03:05 am (UTC)
I wish someone would whisk me away to a nice farm 90 miles north of NYC

At the time, the area was on the down and out (they bought their property knowing that it would decline in value)--and 90 miles was a lot further back then than it is now.
1st-Jan-2007 06:18 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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