Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lilac Mines by Cheryl Klein

Publisher:                Manic D Press

Lilac Mines is a dense story to read.  It's not that 352 pages are that long, but the material requires concentration and assimilation of a number of details.  It's a combination of mystery, history and romance that creates a very different novel from the typical lesbian fare.

Felix Ketay isn't prepared for the changes that occur in her life.  First, her girlfriend runs off to Europe with a female punk rocker and Felix can't stop obsessing over that.  Then her friends try to distract her by taking her for a night out at a lesbian bar and she becomes the victim of a vicious gay bashing.  She doesn't feel safe at home, she doesn't feel safe going to work and her parents are driving her crazy.  When her mother suggests she spend some time with her seldom seen Aunt Anna Lisa in a backwater town called Lilac Mines, Felix agrees more with dread than an eagerness to visit a relative.

Lilac Mines is an unusual town.  It takes its name from the mysterious disappearance of a young girl in a nearby mine and the name may explain why the town is a magnet for lesbians in two different time periods.  Anna Lisa has seen one period pass and the next one arrive in the form of her niece and if she's learned anything, it's to keep a low profile.  Felix comes into a town that is haunted by the mystery and in denial of what is going on right in front of it.  As she tries to solve what happened to Lilac Ambrose and unravel the truth about her aunt, she finds that she learns even more about herself.

Klein sets her story it in three different time periods, the late 1890s, the 1960s and the present.  By alternating chapters about each period she weaves them together to create a single theme – growth.  Lilac Mines itself grows and shrinks, coming back stronger with each incarnation.  The book also addresses the growth of the lesbian experience, starting with that period when the culture was dominated by "butches and femmes" who had to deal with a society that hated and persecuted them openly and coming into the future where the situation is better, if still not yet perfect.  It also deals with the conflict that sometimes arises between older and younger lesbians where the younger women don't understand the caution of the older ones and the older women are a little resentful that they weren't born just a few years later.  Anna Lisa, as the one who straddles the two periods, shows the most growth and confusion.  Klein apparently doesn't expect the reader to like all of her characters, but they are written in a way to make the reader listen to their points of view.

There is a lot to digest in this novel.  At times it appears to be wandering around and the reader may wonder where all of this is heading.  This is one that has to be read carefully and then thought about before the entire story is appreciated.  This is definitely not a book for a casual reading.

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