When I opened the brightly colored autumn woodsy scene cover of Shelley Thrasher's latest novel, I entered a present-day small rural town that might bear some resemblance to Tyler, in east Texas, where the primary characters are members of an absorbing community of older women. The story shifts between the present day and the 1960s, as we meet some characters who have lived there all their lives, others who arrived at varied times, while two—Ann and Bree—grew up in the area, left after high school, and chose to live in large cities. Recently, life circumstances caused both women to return to the hometowns they'd been so happy to leave behind.
Bree had accepted her sexual identity in her teens and came out before going to college. In school, she'd been strongly attracted to Ann, who was flirty but off-putting with Bree; since then Ann has married and divorced multiple times and is back in town with her soon-to-be sixth husband.
When Bree returns to town, her first action is to hurry to visit her mother, Sarah, now a resident in a local assisted living community following a serious fall. She walks into Sarah's room and meets Ann's sister, Linda, a widow, who is providing daily nursing care for Bree's mother. Bree watches Linda unwrap Sarah's leg wound and is devastated to see the extent of her mother's injury. She curtly tells Linda she wants her mother cared for by no one less skilled than a doctor. Linda gently describes her fifty years experience in nursing care, as Bree's mother tells Bree to stop fussing because Linda is taking excellent care of her. Bree remains unimpressed, though, and fails to mask her critical feelings.
As the story unfolds, we meet other community women and are present when Bree visits her mother each day. Slowly we sense a shift in Bree's feelings toward Linda as the two women have more contact, come to agree on the quality of Linda's care for Sarah, and then some threads of attraction arise. Yet Bree has a conflict as she is drawn to Linda. She believes that Linda's sister, Ann, whom she'd made overtures to in high school, is unwilling to admit she's gay as she ostensibly maintains with each new marriage, and Bree wants to clarify if that is true.
With Linda, Bree acts in her usual aggressive and rather impatient manner, traits that have served her fairly well in her career, but not so well in her personal relationships. Linda, on the other hand, a gentle, spiritual soul, uncertain about a relationship with anyone after her long-term emotionally demeaning marriage, senses a stirring of attraction toward this woman Bree, and it's something entirely new to Linda. The contrast, as the two get to know each other through community religious and other activities, their differing personalities—Brie more hurried while Linda is gently awakening and contemplative, unhurriedly exploring her changing feelings—are lovely. The outcome brings surprises, changes, an unexpected twist, and to each woman deep respect for a process that shows them their truths.
Thrasher's title, Autumn Spring, is so perfect for these women in the autumn of their lives, discovering their true identities and celebrating this new springtime season of life. I particularly liked the tender and respectful unfolding relationship between Bree and Linda. If you are like me and have never before read a lesbian novel, I highly recommend this book and hope you will find it, as I did, a well-written and sensitive story of women exploring their lives and sexuality as they seek personal authenticity. I found it a deep pleasure to be in their company as they faced truths, shared wisdom, grew and changed, and made some surprising discoveries about themselves and others.
Shelley Thrasher grew up in small-town East Texas with a great gang of girlfriends and a large extended family. She attended North Texas State University, graduated with an MA in English, then traveled through Europe and the Middle East for a year. After majoring in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, she returned to Texas, where she worked in the anthropology department at the University of Texas in Austin for a year. Since 2004, she has been a consulting editor at Bold Strokes Books. She has published three novels: The Storm, Last Tango in Paris, and Autumn Spring. Most recently, she has published a book of poetry, In and Out of Love. Visit her website.
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