Friday, August 12, 2011

Between Two Women by Patricia Harrelson

Publisher:              Outskirts Press

Patricia Harrelson has written a thought provoking book about the nature of lesbian relationships, not just between partners, but also family and friends.  Harrelson did not realize she was a lesbian until after many years in a marriage she felt was happy and the book covers the period when she is changing her life by moving in with her partner Cindy and being introduced to the lesbian community.  One of her friends is an older lesbian named Carol who always is the center of any gatherings because of her stories about her early life.  At the prodding of their friends, Harrelson decides to make a record of the stories based on conversations she has with Carol on a host of topics, including what it was like being a lesbian in the 1950s and 1960s before the gay rights movement began.  Carol’s stories cause Harrelson to reconsider her own life and how it developed.  To go along with that, Harrelson is fond of quoting from women’s literature and discussing the philosophy behind it. 

Harrelson takes what could be a rather dull exploration of lesbian history and relationships and turns it into an interesting book to read.  Carol’s stories give the book continuity, but they also provide nice breaks between the pages when Harrelson wants to deal with the philosophy of lesbianism.  At times the book reads like fiction rather than nonfiction.  One of the most interesting aspects is when Harrelson delves into why some women do not realize their sexual orientation until later in life.  She explores the roles played by societal expectations, religion and family needs and also discusses how a woman’s perceptions of everything can change when she realizes she doesn’t conform in those areas.  There is a lot of discussion about how family relationships can shift, the different types of relationships that exist between lesbians and how they relate to other women.  Harrelson even has a section that talks about why lesbians have a tendency to remain friends with lovers even after they’ve broken up.

Readers who prefer fiction might ignore this book, but that would be a mistake.  This isn’t a heavy academic tome.  By relating much of it through the conversations, it makes this book very easy and enjoyable to read.  Since Harrelson came into her sexual awareness later in life, she looks into that issue quite a bit and that might make the book very appealing to other women in similar situations.  Give this book a chance.  You probably will be glad you did.

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