(Before I start this, I want to mention that the Kindle sample is what hooked me, and that close toward the end of the sample there was something that caught me by complete surprise, bringing tears to my eyes. So maybe that’s all I really need to write — go read the sample.)
There are books and movies out there where we get to watch someone fight an illness, return to their roots, rekindle their love for what inspired them, or learn to treat their fellow humans with more compassion. They become tear-jerker, feel-good stories that win awards and everyone passes them around like Altoids.
If you’re in the LGBTQ+ umbrella, you know that most of the time, these books and movies only hit the big-time if the protagonist is straight (and cisgender.) After all, the mainstream only seems interested in our struggles if our struggles are somehow directly related to our queerness — Philadelphia was about AIDS, Brokeback Mountain showed a losing duel with the closet and homophobic violence. Boys Don’t Cry won an Oscar but, again, it was about transphobic violence. Where’s the Academy Award for the movie about the brave trans man who has to cope with almost losing his precious baby daughter to childhood cancer? No, the father in that movie has to be straight and cisgender for the mainstream to care.
And this sucks, because that means I have to jump up and down and wave my hands in the air to get people to know about Ebenezer, a novel by JoSelle Vanderhooft.
Vanderhooft has said that she wanted “to rescue A Christmas Carol from over a century of schmaltzifying and saccharine-coating and to get in touch with what makes this novella so strange, so haunting, and ultimately so awe-inspiring.” This is Christmas Carol like you’ve never seen it — distinctly un-Christianity-focused, distinctly a story about women. The main character, her mother and grandmother, her ex-girlfriend, her would-be best friend, the woman she tells herself it’s okay to persecute in the course of her soul-crushing job in collections, and most inspiringly of all, the three entities that come to teach her that it’s possible for her to claw her way out of her severe depression, all reinforce the idea that yes, women CAN be the dominant players in their own story, and a lesbian CAN be the protagonist even if the main skeleton of the story would have been completely the same starring a straight person.
With evocative language like “five foot four and frail as newspaper against December” and a passage in which the light from a street lamp is “honey” on the floor, the author awoke my senses and made it very easy for me to picture everything she described. I felt it had the perfect balance of plot and poetry — too much language with not enough actually happening would have lost me, but there’s no “dead weight” here, just well-decorated story.
Oddest of all, given that I’m a bisexual woman, I found myself completely at ease with the fact that the main character’s long-time girlfriend had left her and was now living with a man. Why? Because it didn’t happen because of her bisexuality. A lesbian Marley would also have left; Marley left because their relationship had too many problems on its own, independent of whoever was coming next in her life. And if a woman had been the one there to catch her on her way out, instead of a man, she would have gone with her instead. The main character was never biphobic in her anger and sorrow, either. It didn’t feel threatening to me at all.
I’ll say it again: the entire story would have worked with a straight protagonist, because at its heart, this is a story about a person coping with depression having a spiritual journey that teaches them that it’s possible for depression to be fought, even their depression. Ebbie’s depression is not in any way caused by homophobia or ‘learning to cope with her lesbianism’ or anything else like that. It’s so revolutionary for me to see people writing stories like that with us. It recognizes that yes, marginalized people can face huge, life-altering problems that don’t stem directly from their marginalized status. That we are part of the entire human experience and not just the symbols of our oppression.
This is a book without a present-day romance, yet it still stars a queer woman.
This is a book without sex, yet it still stars a queer woman.
Isn’t that neat? We get to exist.