Sunday, September 11, 2011

If the Wind Were a Woman by Kelly Sinclair

Publisher:          Blue Feather Books, Ltd.

Kelly Sinclair sets her new novel in Tantona, Texas in the 1970s.  Tantona is a typical small southern town.  Men are in charge, women stay home to take care of the family, and most people go to church on Sunday.  It hardly seems to be a place that is on the cusp of the changes that are gripping the country, but appearances can be deceiving.  Latino/Hispanic/Mexican Americans (they can't decide what to call them) are moving in to change the culture, some of the women are going to work and a scandal breaks over them revealing that there is at least one lesbian in the town.  Oh, if they only knew.

Barbara Wolfe isn't interested in being an advocate for anyone.  The fact that she is a lesbian is the worst kept secret in Tantona, but as long as she's not overt about it, people are willing to pretend they don't know.  Barbara is discreet about her affairs until she meets Darlene Fisher.  One little slip nearly gets Barbara killed, she loses her job and most of the town sees her as a pariah, including her own daughter.  Barbara can handle her own problems, but she's afraid of what might happen to Darlene.  While they try not to antagonize the town, the women find themselves in the midst of a group of family and friends who are determined to help them make their relationship work.  Maybe, just maybe, it's time to test the people of Tantona and find out how many, if any, of them are willing to catch up to what is beginning to happen in the rest of the country.

If the Wind Were a Woman provides a picture that is beginning to disappear in lesbian literature as young women who are growing up in a different time don't know about or remember a time not too long ago when things were very different in the US.  Sinclair reminds the reader that not only was being gay a crime, but it could very easily get you killed and many law enforcement officials simply did not care.  Identifying other members of the gay community to form a support system could be difficult to impossible and being in the closet was a survival tactic, not simply a choice.  Sinclair captures that predicament very well with Barbara and another character named George.  One is forced into the open and the other is terrified that he will be put in the same position.  They also demonstrate how what happens to one person can have a ripple effect on other people and their decisions.

One of the strongest themes in this book is about the power of women even when people do not perceive that they have that power.  The blurb on the back of the book says that Darlene is "an uncontrollable force of nature" who is driving the action in the book.  That is questionable.  There are a number of women who drive different issues and Darlene seems to have the least strength of all of them.  She spends most of the book pretending to be interested in men while Barbara stands in front of the community and takes the blows.  There is also Barbara's best friend Mary who is defiant in the face of the townspeople and will not desert her friend just because she is a lesbian.  Gracie Munoz shows her strength in forcing the town to accept cultural diversity and Barbara's mother exhibits another type of courage when she refuses to let the town shame her daughter.  The book is an homage to the role that women play, when they are at their best, in holding families together, managing the civic conscience and fighting for the underdog.

If the Wind Were a Woman is not a long book, only 172 pages, but it packs a lot of story in it.  An author does not need to write a lot of words if she knows which words to choose.  The book shows how far society has come and, unfortunately, has not come.  It's worth reading.

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