Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Odd Girl Out, by Ann Bannon

(pb; 1957: first book in the six-book Beebo Brinker Chronicles)

Review:

When Laura Landon first meets one of her college roommates, the popular and pretty Beth Cullison, she begins to experience feelings she's never known, or at least acknowledged, before -- the tinglings of desire for another woman. And when Beth responds in a way Laura didn't expect, it further stirs up the hormonal, emotionally-fraught soup that is equal parts restriction, youthful angst and irrepressibility.

The backdrop of the college, written and set in the socially rigid 1950s, provides an inherently potboiler-ish stew for this melodramatic (but hard to set down) tale of a secret love that's constantly being tested by oppressive and punitive (heterosexual) social codes, jealousy (on Laura's part), the confusion of youth, and divided loyalties resulting from these elements.

The characters are complex and interesting, particularly the leads: even the prudish Mary Lou, a relatively minor but pivotal character, isn't cookie cutter, though she easily could be, without the novel's effectiveness being compromised.

If the well-edited dialogue in Odd Girl Out seems sometimes melodramatic, it's because it's about the passion of first, life-changing loves, which can be quite messy to chart (a feat that Bannon pulls off admirably and unfalteringly), as well as the fact that it features no explicit sex -- hence, the het-up language, where a kiss is considerably more than a kiss (much like the "fireworks kiss" scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 To Catch A Thief).

Excellent, passionate, groundbreaking pulp read, this. Worth checking out.

Odd Girl Out is followed by these five books: I Am a Woman, Women in the Shadows, Beebo Brinker, Journey to a Woman, and Who Loves a Woman.

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