There have been several times in conversations on facebook groups where people threw out the question "what do you look for in a LesFic book?" My answer has often been "beautiful writing," but it can be hard to explain what I mean by that. So now I have something I can point to and say, "That's what I mean by beautiful writing in LesFic."
Minotaur by J. A. Rock isn't a book that would ordinarily have caught my attention. In fact, I bought it entirely because it appeared on the Book Clips series at The Lesbian Talk Show podcast(*). (I confess it's the first time I've bought a book based on being included in the series.) I was so impressed by what I heard that I think I pulled out my iPhone and called up the iBooks store while still sitting in my car at the end of the commute when I listened to it.
Minotaur is a fantasy. Or maybe it's a YA-ish story of adolescent rebellion in a home for wayward girls. Maybe the titular minotaur actually did terrify the town in a previous generation. Or maybe it's an urban legend, whispered among the girls at the Rock Point Girls' Home as a terrifying entertainment. Maybe Thera has a vivid imagination, or maybe the tangled imagery in the opening monolog is remnants of her being hopped up on stolen drugs. Maybe she's an unreliable narrator...or maybe she really will become a hero that slays a monster.
I read this story not knowing whether the promise of fantasy was genuine or a misdirection, and I won't spoil that aspect for other readers. At its heart, this is the story of an unwanted, neglected girl who turns herself hard to survive, then learns how to open herself again for love--both the love of friends and romantic love. The setting is a dreary, narrow-minded small town, still stuck in an era when the sympathetic counselor at the Girls' Home who shows too much affection for the girls is whispered visciously to be a "BD," which it took me a while to decode as "bull-dyke." So when roommates Thera and Alle begin exploring their tentative desire for each other, there are layers of confusion, ignorance, and despair to work through. They promise to stay together when they age out of the home, not truly believing such a thing is possible and each doubting that she is worthy of that sort of love.
As I said above, on the surface, it isn't the sort of story that usually attracts me. But the language--oh my, the language. J. A. Rock has an extraordinary command of voice, of description, of easing you into an alien world (in this case, the world of Rock Point) and making you care about the inhabitants, even when they're people you wouldn't much like in real life.
The only place where the book faltered for me was in an extended descriptive passage after the book changes gears when Thera leaves the Home. (I'm being a little cagey here to avoid spoilers.) There was a section that went on aimlessly and--dare I say--self-indulgently just a bit too long. The plot picked up again just about when I was at the edge of my patience, but I certainly wasn't sorry I kept going.
This is not a light and fluffy book. There are dark bits and violent bits and a few squicky bits. But it's solid and compelling and ultimately triumphant. (I'd consider that last a spoiler, except that too many readers of queer stories need to know they aren't going to get punched in the face by Queer Tragedy.)
(*) Full disclosure: my own podcast series "The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast" also runs on The Lesbian Talk Show.