Arts & Entertainment
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When lesbian love sours

Three new books on lesbian breakups capture the ups and especially the downs

“Some queers are not mentally healthy; some queer relationships are screwy,” says Jane Eaton Hamilton, author of Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes. Credit: Ash McGregor

Fabulous when it’s good, love’s the dream. But divorce rates inform us that love sours. Headlines report how it can warp and weaken.

In three new books, Vancouver writers specifically address lesbian romance. Far from Hallmark-sweet, these memorable accounts refuse to romanticize, capturing fleeting ups as well as miserable downs.

In Love Will Burst Into A Thousand Shapes, Jane Eaton Hamilton’s artful and globetrotting poetic exploration of matters of the heart runs the gamut. Yes, there’s excitement (“Tomorrow I will show you to everyone I love / and dream of marrying you”) and erotic highs (“she peeled me so I came apart / in sections juicy and dripping through her hands”). But there are plenty of end-of-romance lows too.

In “She Got the House,” a lover makes a poisonous promise: “I will crush you.” There’s cooling ardour: “love gone and / remembered, made present by absence.” Of this theme, the author is matter-of-fact, neither blindly idealizing nor jaded.

“Some queers are not mentally healthy; some queer relationships are screwy,” she says succinctly. “Exploring how relationships build and how they shatter, from the middle of our community, is important.”

In an elegant if sombre debut novel, One Hundred Days of Rain, Carellin Brooks captures the dismal fallout from an exploded lesbian marriage.

In 100 brief and rain-drenched chapters Brooks maps the painful distance from hope (romantic whispers of future anniversaries) to despair (police sirens, lawyers, court dates, loneliness). Between the two states, there’s lots of introspection pursuing the age-old question: “How did things go so very wrong?”

Of her aims, Brooks says, “I actually love that sort of War of the Roses genre — where the couple goes crazy and has this no-holds-barred kind of battle. But that wasn’t the book I wanted to write. This was more a book about the depression of having tried to love well, and failed, as mirrored by the weather.”

“I wanted to write not about these kinds of triumphant or terrible moments, when people are having huge dramatic fights, but the boring, daily, depressing aftermath, and how to cope with your own failure. And what gets built from that,” she says.

“I think the interesting thing about a relationship between two women, whether married or not, is that it can be less clear who’s at fault if it becomes a game of she-said, she-said,” she adds. “With men and women, men are assumed to, and often do have, more power. So yes, I wanted to exploit that in fiction: the narrator’s culpability in giving up on the relationship, even though at first glance she looks like the victim.”

The 49 arresting poems in Leah Horlick’s For Your Own Good stem from the author’s sexual assault at the hands of her girlfriend when she was 19 years old.

The impassioned but meditative pieces explore uneven power dynamics and the confused interior life of the solitary young woman who blames herself and is trying to make sense of a suddenly restrictive and harmful relationship.

In the poems Horlick also re-examines notions related to the safety of women’s relationships. “For me, the experience of woman-to-woman sexual assault highlighted a whole new side of sexism,” she says. “Not only were there things women weren’t supposed to do, there were kinds of violence women (and lesbians in particular) just weren’t supposed to perpetuate or experience — which meant there was nowhere to turn to for help, and no script for how I was to navigate this story.”

Happily, the collection ends with a triumphant poem that begins with “It has taken five years and fifteen hundred / kilometres to get away.”

“Transformation was the goal — for myself, and for the book, and the book was an essential part of my healing process,” Horlick explains. “Learning to integrate trauma and grief through telling myself stories felt like the only way I knew how to survive and to dream up a life beyond that grief.”