Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America

Ellen Lewin, Editor
Ellen Lewin, Editor Beacon Press (MA) $19 (244p) ISBN 978-0-8070-7943-0
Hardcover - 232 pages - 978-0-8070-7942-3
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Anthropological readings of contemporary lives can be one of two things: enlightening or extremely tedious. Lewin's compilation is an odd combination of both. According to the introduction, the essays mean to examine how lesbians' constructions of the past inform their understandings of the present. That is the basis of most of the essays, but the widely varying degrees of sophistication render the collection uneven. The best works are focused on a specific time and place: Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy writes about the life of a South Dakota teacher who moved in a discrete but acknowledged circle of lesbians in the 1920s and '30s. Rochella Thorpe's essay on house parties as an integral part of lesbian and gay African American socializing from the 1940s to the '70s is an intimate and fresh account. Kath Weston's ""Requiem for a Street Fighter"" is a succinct, sharp analysis of the failure of the notion of community and its tragic effect on a forgotten individual. Some of the essays are spoiled by bad or pretentious writing. Alisa Klinger takes a half-page of obtuse, academic prose (""the distinctly political cast of multiracial and multiethnic lesbian personal and fictional narratives and the revolutionary investment of lesbians in textual production..."") and fails to make a cohesive point other than that lesbians are a diverse group who have written many books. Other essays, such as Lewin's on lesbian weddings and commitment ceremonies, Ellen Herman's on lesbian motherhood and Deborah Amory's on a late 1980s San Francisco lesbian dance club, while focused, fail to turn up important discoveries or insights. If there is a message here, it is that lesbian lives do not automatically make for interesting research, but a researcher's drive can make even the smallest bit of cultural history rich with meaning. (Dec.)
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