Book review: An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, by Lee Lynch

Lynch American QueerLynch, Lee. An American Queer: The Amazon Trail. Ed. by Ruth Sternglantz. Bold Strokes Books. 2014. 254p. $16.95. 978-1-62639-204-5.

Thirty years ago, Lynch moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and started her amazing journey depicted throughout almost 400 “Amazon Trail” columns. Editor Ruth Sternglantz has distilled these through the selection of 73 Trails, providing the author’s half-century perspective of lesbian life as lesbians have moved from invisibility to public life and even marriage—for most LGBT people in the United States. In this poignant and powerful exposé of her experiences, Lynch reminds the reader how difficult it is/was for a LGBT person to be out and public. The older generation still remembers the difficulties, but Lynch’s “stories” of events in her life are moving reminders. For younger readers, Lynch’s combination of humor and pain will introduce them to the past.

Award-winning Lynch has a long history of writing, beginning as a regular contributor in the 1960s to The Ladder, the only lesbian newsletter at that time, and moving on to publishing The Toothpick House, the first of her 14 works of fiction, the year before her column first appeared. Using her status as an icon in lesbian literature, the Golden Crown Literary Society created a new award for classic fiction in her name.

This book is not the first collection of “Amazon Trail” columns: in 1988, the now defunct Naiad Press published 37 of her columns, arranged thematically, in a book with the same title as the column. The latest collection, because of a much greater number of choices, is far more complex. Organized by decades of publication, An American Queer follows stark realities and changes in lesbian life as Lynch moved from urban life to rural women’s land before settling in a small fishing town in the Northwest.

Part of the book describes her fears, for example starting a new job: “For someone that never felt like she belonged anywhere, starting a new job was — and is– confirmation of all my fears. Yes, I’m inadequate. No, I’m not trainable. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. I’m going to go eat worms.

Another issue Lynch addresses is going public, for example deciding what to call a lover: “Public, every couple’s stumbling block. At the annual condo-association holiday party, is s/he your partner, significant other, friend, roommate, the less plausible housemate, long lost cousin from Schenectady, best buddy, wife/husband, hubby, old man, mate, companion, lover, sidekick, straight man? Straight man? Or do you just say, ‘This is Mary Beth, my prhfysgvchsbhsvdte–can I get you a Calistoga?’ “

In the distant past, letters about individual’s experiences provided a look at history. This practice morphed into columns such as My Day, Eleanor Roosevelt’s syndicated column published from 1935 to 1962. Almost 20 years ago, Joyce Murdoch published a collection of her columns about LGBT life by her partner, Deb Price, in And Say Hi to Joyce. More recently, Fay Jacobs collected her columns about Rehoboth Beach (VA). Now An American Queer follows the tradition of “the personal is political” in an accessible quick read, both heartfelt and gentle, that stays in the reader’s thoughts. It is recommended for all public and academic libraries.

Sue Hardesty, Retired Librarian
Newport, Oregon

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