Sunday, August 14, 2011

Close Enough by Jane Vollbrecht

Publisher:               Regal Crest Enterprises

Close Enough is a novel that spans decades and generations, but it addresses the same issues. What is family? How do the choices we make influence not only our own futures, but those of the people we touch? Never give up on a dream. 

In 1942 Hilda Stenkiewicz is forced to give up her illegitimate baby and starts a chain of events that will not conclude until forty-two years later. She gives the child to an Army buddy of her brother and intends to keep track of it, but loses all chance for that when her brother is killed in World War II. Although Hilda meets Elaine Huebner and they build a rich life together, there is always that nagging desire to find the child that she really wanted to keep.

Frannie Brewster always knows that she is adopted, but she thinks she was abandoned by a mother who did not want her. Though her adoptive mother loves her, her father makes her early years torture and all she can think about is getting out of her small Alabama hometown. An outstanding academic record takes her to college and then to a career in the Army.

Along the way, Frannie discovers that she is a lesbian in a time when that was still considered a mental illness. She struggles to find love and a way to accommodate it with the career she has chosen and a society that wants to treat her as a criminal if her sexual orientation is disclosed. Meanwhile, her adoptive mother is spiraling out of control as an alcoholic, depriving Frannie of any type of home life to fall back on. As she goes through the years, she searches to find a place where she truly belongs and to fill the emptiness she feels inside.

Eventually, the search is begun for Hilda and Frannie to find each other. The odds of connecting seem insurmountable, but each has a greater fear than that they will never connect. What if they do and cannot accept each other as they are? The loving families that each has found will make all the difference in how this question is answered.

Close Enough is really Frannie's story. Enough of Hilda's story is told in the beginning to set up what is happening, but that's all. It would have been interesting to see how Hilda and Elaine lived a closeted existence coming through the years of the 1940's and 1950's as a lesbian couple, but that wasn't the focus of the book. Vollbrecht takes her time developing the character of Frannie. The reader sees her grow from eighteen to forty-two as she deals with learning about herself, strengths and weaknesses. She searches for love as she searches for identity and, like all true people, she makes mistakes. The particularly interesting part of the book is when it shows how lesbians in the Army dealt with their situation in the years before "don't ask, don't tell." 

Vollbrecht is beginning to make a mark for herself as someone who tells lesbian stories that don't fit in the mold of the romances. While the romantic story is there with the necessary love scenes, it's secondary to the main story that is rich with details of a woman's struggle to cope with the rather difficult life that fate has dealt her. Vollbrecht proves once again that she can write a story that is lesbian, but with universal appeal. This is well worth reading.

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