Bold Strokes Books, 2006. ISBN 1-9331100-29-5.
Reviewed by Gwen Whitehead
Posted on 05/21/2008
Early in Lee Lynch's Sweet Creek, Chick and Donny, two of the main characters, discuss the inhabitants of Waterfall Falls:
"Every time I try to figure out how many I lose count, and I've been around eight years. Help me here, Chick. There's the land women, the music crowd—"
"The softball players and the artists and writers."
"The wannabe teachers and financial planners and social worker types—"
"The blue collar dykes who pump gas and paint houses—"
"And there's always some overlap, like lesbian welfare moms who write poetry and hang with the jocks."
Chick and Donny's assessment of the cast of characters in their small town can lead one to a comparison between Sweet Creek and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's book presents a cross-section of medieval life as his pilgrims make their way to Canterbury Cathedral on a religious pilgrimage. At the heart of Sweet Creek is a group of pilgrims. Some, like Chick and Donny and the mysterious R, have already arrived at their destination, while others, like Katie and Jeep, are just arriving and must depend on the earlier travelers to help them traverse risky and uncharted spiritual, mental, and romantic territory.
As the novel opens, Katie and Jeep arrive in Waterfall Falls, a small town in the Pacific Northwest. They've made their way on a circuitous route that has taken them from San Francisco to Chicago and finally to Waterfall Falls. They stumble, quite literally in the case of Jeep, into Natural Woman Foods—an organic food store run by Chick and Donny.
Unlike the traditional religious pilgrim who has an idea of what he/she is seeking upon arrival at a shrine, neither Katie nor Jeep has a fully realized notion of what she is looking for. Both are running away from lives they think they no longer want to live, running toward an idealized life centered around women who control their own lives and destinies. They have heard of this feminist, lesbian wonderland from an acquaintance and set out on their pilgrimage. What they find when they get to Waterfall Falls sets each of them on further quests.
Like Chaucer's pilgrims, Lynch's characters tell stories throughout the novel. Through flashbacks, we see how Donny and Chick came to be the women they are. Donny, a self-proclaimed bulldagger, not only had to deal with prejudice against her sexuality, she also had to face prejudice about her race. As a black lesbian, Donny has perhaps had more to overcome than the other women in the novel. Chick is a leftover hippie; it's easy to imagine her dancing with flowers in her hair during the Summer of Love. Like Donny, she has had to face adversity because of her sexuality. The two of them, eight years into a monogamous relationship, have faced their share of romantic adversity, too, as Donny at first ran from the attraction she felt for Chick.
The novel wanders through stories of the characters' past lives and present events at a leisurely pace. It is not a fast read. Chick, Donny, Jeep, and the women who comprise their closest circle of friends are compelling characters, and readers will want to know more about their motivations, fears, and dreams.
Lynch has to be commended for tackling a novel of such grand scope. Even as some characters and situations beg credulity, the book overall is successful at providing a look into the journey that lesbians have taken over the past forty years in this country. From characters who lived their early years deeply closeted to characters who have benefited from the pioneering work of those women who were brave enough to break away and blaze the trail to places like Waterfall Falls. These women—warts and all—show the reader that this pilgrimage is still underway.
Lee Lynch has been writing for over twenty-five years. She has contributed to many lesbian newspapers and magazines and has published a number of novels and collections of shorter works. Visit her website.
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