Macdougal Alley

Tatheena Roberts, Author
Tatheena Roberts, Author Alyson Books $11.95 (289p) ISBN 978-1-55583-540-8
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Two women struggle to overcome their disastrous childhoods, finding sexual freedom and love in Roberts's debut lesbian romance, set in 1930s Manhattan. Once in step with the often-shifting point of view, readers will engage deeply with this story of pre-WWII Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. Mina Arenholt, a 13-year-old German Catholic, buries her mother and returns home to her sexually abusive stepfather. At age 17, her attraction to classmate Katy Conklin grows into love, as an innocent shower together quickly becomes an erotic episode for the two girls. Discovery by Katy's father leads to Katy's exile to a convent and Mina's understanding of her sexuality. She moves in with her Aunt Willie in Astoria, and eventually finds her way to 12 MacDougal Alley, in bohemian Greenwich Village. Young Chana Stern, meanwhile, coping with her widowed mother's newfound Hasidic conservatism, attempts to resist a prearranged marriage and ultimately abandons her new husband, beginning a fresh life as a painter. With the eventual convergence of the characters' lives hovering on Roberts's predictable horizon, the author manages to navigate the interlude (Mina is a nude model in Chana's art class) with a sure hand, leaving no emotional outlets untapped. Roberts's period atmosphere adds a dash of realism to the steamy theatrics, and her extensive knowledge of Jewish ceremonial tradition gives her narrative breadth and authenticity. Although the author, who completed this novel shortly before her 80th birthday, lacks the skills of romance heavies Steele and Krantz, her story will be appreciated for its pastoral atmosphere by readers who yearn for a fiery romantic yarn that accommodates an alternative lifestyle. (Feb.)
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