Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Miss Pettibone and Miss McGraw by Brenda Weathers
Publisher: Naiad Press
To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, Gillian Pettibone and Anna McGraw are dead. Of that there can be no doubt. They die on the first page of the book. The book then goes on to tell their story in three parts – the period right after their deaths, how they met, and the resolution. Gilly and Anna met during World War II when they played in an all woman band performing for the USO. Prejudice and discrimination drove them to buy a secluded home on an island in Puget Sound, where they lived happily isolated from the outside world until their deaths decades later. Since they saw no reason to "move on," they stayed in the house, chasing away potential owners, as more time passed. Eventually, the house is bought by Tess and Ellie who turn it into a bed and breakfast for lesbians. From them, Gilly and Anna learn that the world has changed in ways that they could never have imagined.
This is a gentle story that tells a more powerful one. Unlike more recent books that can be rather strident about the prejudices of the past, Miss Pettibone and Miss McGraw simply tells the tale of these two women in the 1940's and lets the reader see the injustice through what happens to them. The book is a chance to see things as they were and as they became. The tactic of having the women isolate themselves on the island makes for a clear break in time and developments.
The main characters are perhaps more naïve about lesbianism than even women in the 1940's would have been, but it's a minor point. The book has its own patina because it was published twelve years ago, but that adds to its character. It doesn't have what seem to be the "required" vivid sex scenes of today's books, although there are more genteel versions, and the ending seems a bit abrupt, but it is happy. This will open a window onto the past. It may be difficult to find, but if it's located on a used shelf somewhere, it's worth the purchase.