"She pointed to the circle the ring cast on the ground. I nodded, acknowledging that the shadow was as real as the ring. She smiled and waved her hand in the space between the ring and its shadow. Isn't this distance also real?"
Warning: This is a ramble.
THIS is the book that caused my recent reading and reviewing slump. Having finished Stone Butch Blues, nothing looked in any way interesting enough to move on to. Nothing I typed out made sense, or, even if there was some sense in it, it did not read as anything but a regurgitation of the same thoughts, the same sentiments that so many other reviewers have expressed already.
I think this is the very crux of the problem: this book seems so well known, so "iconic" that anything relating to it sounds a bit unoriginal, a bit cliche.
So, how about we get some of the "cliches" out of the way and see what is left?
- Stone Butch Blues is a "tough" book. True, there are a lot of descriptions of physical and sexual violence, but it also gives a lot of insight into people trying to cope. It beautifully describes characters without over-analysing what makes them tick.
- The story is very moving. Yes, it was written to be deliberately moving but then so is much of literature. And while I admit to being the first to criticise other books for manipulative writing (yes, I am looking at you, The Book Thief), it works in the favour of Stone Butch Blues because the book is somewhat rugged. Stone Butch Blues does not try to manipulate with pompous / pretentious writing. The narration is very down to earth, naturally clunky, and it works beautifully.
- The writing style is atrocious. It is not polished writing, but it works (for me). Most of the book is written from the main characters point of view. It would not befit Jess' character to tell her story in polished or flowery language.
- The book has a political agenda. It is true that the author had strong political convictions and that the book does feature the role and workings of unions. That does not constitute the book itself serving a communist agenda. Btw, how come some people criticise Feinberg for her communist leanings but would not apply the same criticism to other authors?
- The story focuses too much on the butch/femme dichotomy and not enough on other variances of gender identity. Erm, have you read the book? All of it? To the end? Go read it again. Besides, the story is told from the perspective of one person. It's one individual experience.
- The book is important. I have nothing to add to this.
So, what is left?
For much of the time that I have been thinking about writing this review, all I wanted to do was to join the chorus of readers who have loved this book "so damn much" (yes, that's another cliche). However, I wanted to know why.
Having thought about it, I did not like this book because it is important or moving. Well, at least not exclusively because it is both. I also liked the book for the descriptive detail and because it provided some historical context I was not familiar. The reason I love the book, however, is because as a coming-of-age story, Stone Butch Blues is as powerful as To Kill a Mocking Bird or The Catcher in the Rye or any other you'd care to mention.
It uses the best and worst aspects of humanity, cruelty and kindness, perception and reality, success and failure, to form the individual that is Jess Goldberg.
"My neighbour, Ruth, asked me recently if I had my life to live all over again would I make the same decisions? "Yes," I answered unequivocally, "yes." I'm sorry it's had to be this hard. But if I hadn't walked this path, who would I be?"