The Farmer’s Daughter – historical midcentury lesbian romance w hoboes & Hollywood

I don’t usually read things that put me face to face with Our Pain and Our History — whether that means the Shoah or pre-Stonewall Tragic Lesbians — but The Farmer’s Daughter by Robbi McCoy served me that dose of reality that makes me value my present-day life even more, and did it protected safely within the warm embrace of a happy ending.

I really enjoy a vivid setting coming to life before my eyes, and McCoy showed me the hobo life of riding on trains and sleeping in barns, as well as the secretive life of working class urban lesbian communities in the 1950’s. This is book is a cinematic experience and a complete story, taking place over years instead of weeks, and it has that wonderful feeling of being well-researched without reading like a Wikipedia entry.

First, McCoy gives us the story of a young butch lesbian riding the rails who experiences a love story of exquisite, bittersweet beauty when she and a Nebraska farm girl fall for each other. Then, she takes us several years later to Hollywood, where it turns out that teenage romantic tragedy isn’t the final word.

One of the most interesting parts of this book for me was the discussion of how, if a wealthy or powerful gay man marries a lesbian as a “beard”, depending on her original economic status she may wind up with very little power in the association even though they aren’t truly fulfilling heterosexual marriage roles. She may be free to have her own relationships, but within strict boundaries that protect his reputation.

The book also takes unexpected forays into the red scare and labor politics, where Annie (the femme) finally finds her own voice. I think it’s neat when the participants in a love story deserve each other, and it was fun watching Annie grow into and deserve the steely strength and devotion of her “Mutt” (Shirley.)

Note: this is not my usual fluffy fare, and there were moments when I had to put the book down and whimper a little. If you are triggered by family abuse/corrective rape of a lesbian or of bad guys dying in various realistically violent ways, check out my other book reviews for alternate recommendations instead.

About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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