Completed 4/1/2020, Reviewed 4/1/2020
This was a really tough review to write, not because it’s a bad book. On the contrary, this is an interesting and entertaining little fantasy. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The writing is pretty good for a first novel. It was tough because it’s such a short book. To describe the plot gives away a lot, that is, it can be a big spoiler. So I’ll do the best I can. The author hasn’t written much since this book, which is too bad. I felt that the imagination that went into this was great. It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 1999, but it is currently out of print, as far as I’ve found.
Here’s my attempt at the plot summary. Phoebe is the guardian angel to Alice, a lesbian technical writer who is not out at work. She asks Alice to write stories for her. At first Alice refuses, but then becomes intrigued as Phoebe starts telling the stories. As time goes on, the stories unfold, and Alice and Phoebe begin learning from each other. Alice learns to fly and Phoebe learns about her senses. But does Phoebe really want to be human?
The real surprise of the book is the stories Phoebe tells. At first, they seem extraneous, but as the book progresses, so do the stories. It’s kind of like reading a novel and several short stories simultaneously. They all tie together in a sort of meta fashion towards the end. It wasn’t exactly surprising, as I kind of guessed it, but the way it comes together is pretty smart. The short stories are about an African-American drag queen, a poor, white, racist family, and a woman who makes story boxes about her life and the lives of her friends. Each one is like a little gem set in the larger context of the story of Phoebe and Alice.
Phoebe and Alice are wonderful characters. There’s a lot of character development despite the length of the book. Alice is particularly interesting as she is closeted at work, but has an active life in the lesbian community outside of work. However, the conflict of this double life is clear as she reflects on her last relationship. Phoebe is interesting as she slowly becomes less ephemeral and more substantial. Also of note is Blanche, the racist woman, as she develops a casual relationship with an African-American man, and Jo-Jo the drag queen who started life wanting to be a nun.
The ending is a little esoteric. Initially, I thought it ended too abruptly. It took me some time to absorb what actually happened, and then I was able to appreciate it. Of course, I can’t go into it, but it if you read this book, I highly recommend that you take the last ten pages slowly, then sit with it for a few hours afterwards.
I give this book four stars out of five. I think it’s an underappreciated little gem. It’s written well with decent prose and realistic dialogue. It’s not been widely read, and doesn’t have much love on Goodreads, and I think that’s a shame. If you can find a copy of this book, it’s well worth your time.