Dear John, I Love Jane stands out as one of those rare confessional works that simultaneously inspires and depresses without ever really committing to either. The book, co-edited by SFR sometimes-contributor Candace Walsh and Laura André, anthologizes 27 essays about women leaving men for women.
The collection teeters precariously between the sensational and the absurd. The idea that women would leave men for women should not, by all accounts, come as a surprise. Nor should it warrant more than a passing acknowledgment that the behavior's sensationalist grasp with society is a sign that we're still, as a whole, not as open-minded as we'd like to believe. At the same time, as Walsh told SFR in preparation for this week's SFR Pick on the book signing, "It's like the fringe of the fringe."
Why? Surely we've all matured enough, whether intellectually or mimetically, that women choosing, being drawn to, or otherwise ending up with other women no longer offends our delicate sensibilities of reality. Perhaps it's the idea of married, middle-aged women leaving their husbands and children that really comes off as taboo behavior.
Dear John is not that kind of book. As a self-identifying straight male (although, if readers take anything away from this collection, it should be that such labels are of questionable value at best), these stories both excite and appall me. In tale after tale of families splitting apart, where do our readers' sympathies lie? Do they rest with the grieving but supportive husbands? The loving but bewildered children? The caring but conflicted friends? I'd like to say that the each family member, friend and co-worker's reactions to each woman's experience are compassionate and supportive, just as I'd like to say that each woman experiences the same sense of gratification in her evolving idea of self. I wish I could say that every GLBT community embraced every new member with the same warm encouragement. I wish I could, but I can't.
And yet the stories are exquisite, and as varied as the characters within them. Some of the women felt the attractive tug of other women since childhood, while others never questioned that they were drawn to men. For some of the authors, the change was instantaneous, while others felt a gradual build-up over years or even decades. Some left dysfunctional relationships and welcomed the new idea of themselves, while others left healthy, happy relationships and were emotionally torn apart by their experience.
The authors are similarly varied, whether in race, age or otherwise. Not every story is a shining gem of the human creative process, nor should it be. But every story is heartfelt, and many of them are heartbreaking. Some are witty and playful, while others are cumbersome and fragmented. In many ways, these qualities mimic the diversity of lives that led to their inception. And the stories speak to an equally diverse readership.
Perhaps the message here—once one overcomes the occasional, intermittent bout of gender-bashing (there isn't much, but it's there) and periods of adolescent (and post-adolescent) angst—is that, much more than just the parlance of our times, the concepts on which we as human beings base our prejudices and perceptions of each other are still tied to dated ideas of categorization and unchanging selves. Gay, straight or otherwise, the stories argue, the point isn't what—man, woman; black, white; young, old—we love but how and whom and why.
DEAR JOHN, I LOVE JANE: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT LEAVING MEN FOR WOMEN
Edited by Candace Walsh and Laura André
Thursday, Dec. 9
Collected Works Bookstore
202 E. Galisteo St.
Free to reading attendees
101 W. Marcy St.