Rubyfruit Jungle (Rita Mae Brown)

Rubyfruit Jungle is on pretty much every L part of the LGBTQ+  reading lists I have found, so when I saw it in the library, it was straight onto the pile without a second thought. I don’t get to read enough about lesbians.

Molly is a hard-headed, straight talking kid who has ambition, and just so happens to be a lesbian in South Florida. Molly works out at a young age she will have to be tough to be true to herself, in her dealings with boyfriends and girlfriends and education and work.

I confess I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if I hadn’t seen it on lists so frequently. I’m glad I read it, but in the same way that I’m glad I got through South Riding as a teenager, determination less than enjoyment. I suppose that makes me a little like Molly, stubborn and determined to see things through. Molly is stubborn, proud to a fault, determined and you can’t fault her for that, even if she lacks any sort of diplomacy, a trait that usually lands her in hot water.

I understand that Molly’s story is told selectively, but it seems unlikely that she manages to convince every “heterosexual” woman that she decides she wants to sleep with, to actually sleep with her, and that they instantly fall into a relationship once they’ve had sex the first time. She doesn’t pick healthy relationships either, and sometimes it seems as if everything is about sex for Molly and all her friends. But Molly’s absolute bull-headed determination to go her own way, and do things on her own terms is sometimes funny, sometimes cringy, but very real.

I can appreciate the frank narrative, and the historical insight into the nature of women’s oppression and attitudes towards lesbianism in the mid-twentieth century America are kinda scary when I think of how my family and friends are so chill about it. But I find it a bit unrelatable – not because of the time period but because everything is so frank and biographical that emotions can seem a little removed from the situation. It’s like ready the Great Gatsby and watching Gatsby and Daisy’s affair from Nick’s emotionally removed position. Perhaps it is because the narrative is through the haze of time, and from a different era of writing, but there were many sections I struggled with.

I am glad I read it though. I love classics. But I don’t think it’s one I’m going to read again for a very long time. Maybe its a rite of passage for baby gays, to read Rubyfruit Jungle as an lesbian coming of age. To be honest, calling it “lesbian literature” is restricting, Rita Mae Brown herself disliked labels for sexuality, saying that “I don’t believe in straight or gay. I really don’t. I think we’re all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it’s a bell curve who really truly are gay or really truly are straight“.

Brown wrote a book that was so radical, and shocking and it’s just a book about a stubborn woman who happens to love other women. For that, I am glad I read it.

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