One of the reasons I began writing lesbian fiction 25 years ago, was because I could not, at that time, find a kindred spirit in them. I could not relate to those characters, and their lives. The women in the pages of the lesbian fiction I read back then did not represent me, nor anyone I knew, or wanted to know. This offended me greatly.
As for the book, Valencia, itself, the author does have some writing talent and I did notice a periodic turn of a phrase or insightful comment, but overall, these positives were overshadowed by everything else. Her talent was wasted on this work. The diction was misogynistic, offensive and derogatory, the portrayal of lesbians pejorative, the examples of love twisted, damaged and pathetic. The characters, while apparently of legal age, had the emotional maturity of 13 year olds. They were dirty drug-users and alcoholics, whose behavior was demoralizing, demeaning, insensitive and offensive, from any ethical point of view.
The main character had choices, as we all do, but chose to be lazy, irresponsible, and immature; since she could not keep a job, she ended up in illegal activities in order to make money–the worst of which was selling her body. Her prostitution was doubly offensive, since she was having sex with men, even going against her own orientation; and furthering the misogynistic elements of this society. The sex in this story is portrayed as dirty, dangerous, and meaningless–like, sex that included the use of a knife, sex with those the character didn’t care about, sex as a punishment, sex as violation. None of the intimate activity in this book celebrated the bond of love. It trivialized the value of sharing love and nurturance and expression of affection. For example,
“shame was like a dirty tampon pulled from my body and flung in the bucket when i was with Iris.” (p. 246)
“The fucking happened so fast that by the time i realized i didn’t want it, it was over. Fate fucked me quick and rough with her grubby hands, impatiently pushing fingers into me, and I understood that she didn’t want it either… She pulled her hand out of me and curled herself around my back tightly, as if there were something between us. IT seemed like a brave and vulnerable thing to do, like when she cried above my tarot cards. I lay there with her foreign arm clutching me, knowing that she thought she’d earned this rest and closeness with the brief, perfunctory fuck. I had a tangled icky feeling like a confusing, hungover morning. When i woke up, I found blood sticky on my thighs, seeping out from where her hand had torn me.” (p. 195)
In order for a book to qualify as “good literature” it has to have some kind of redeeming value. It should inspire us, make us understand things like pain and loss and joy and strength and goodness. Good literature does this by allowing characters to experience challenges, and work through them so that they come out better people on the other side. It should result in the growth of a character. As human beings, we all should aspire to be the best versions of ourselves, even if we have to walk through hell barefoot to get there. When a story is tragic, I want it to touch me, make me feel compassion. I didn’t feel that with Valencia. I didn’t care about her or anyone else in the book at all.
When a story is inspiring, it should lift us up, encourage us, make us feel like part of something worth having; make us feel good about the community of which we are a part. This book did nothing to accomplish that, either. What it did accomplish was to make me feel contaminated, disappointed in gay sensibility, and it also made me feel shame that the mainstream might see this work and judge us all by the characters in its pages. One of the reasons gay people are rejected by the mainstream, is because there is this idea that we are somehow lacking in character and teetering on the precipice of ethical squalor. That we are the underbelly of society. This book perpetuates that idea, and so does not serve us. It pretends to tell a meaningful story, while slapping us in the face with the worst parts of ourselves. Thus, I cannot fathom why Valencia won any awards. Is this really what we want to hold up to the world as a representation of who we are?