cover image Greasepaint


Hannah Levene. Nightboat, $16.95 trade paper (172p) ISBN 978-1-64362-213-2

A tightknit group of lesbians navigate mid-20th-century New York City in Levene’s vibrant if diffuse debut. Each weekend, the “butch” characters congregate at a bar called Louis’ Place, where they cavort, drink, and smoke to the sounds of gregarious chanteuse Frankie Gold accompanied on piano by Sammy Silver. Musicians from the jazz group BOP (“Butch On Piano”) also meet at the bar, along with tough, opinionated women like Vic, who “looks like a motorbike.” In place of a narrative through line or story arc, Levene offers a peek into the friends’ efforts at building a lifestyle. While smoking together outside on the bar’s back doorsteps, the friends discuss community, sex, desire, masculinity, their broken homophobic families, and the longing for a loving relationship. Levene adds dimension to her gritty characters by delineating their sensitivities about race, sexuality, and physical appearance, and she portrays their personality traits in vivid terms (Frankie Gold “had been born an anarchist like people are born Catholic”). Though the long stream-of-consciousness passages tend to meander, Levene faithfully renders her subjects’ complicated love affairs, jealousies, and intimate yearning. This heartfelt ode to 1950s lesbian social culture is worth a look. (Feb.)