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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Feb. 1, 1985)
b y Thom as A Rhodes
The best part of Harlan Greene's novel,
W hy We Never Danced the Charleston.
($ 12.95, St. Martins/Marek Press) is the title.
As titles should, it entices the prospective
reader to pick up and quite possibly purchase
an otherwise mediocre novel. In this case, it is
a plus; becom ing the proverbial carrot on the
stick, leading the reader into a world which
leaves m any questions unanswered.
The world Greene creates is a small
hom osexual com m unity in the outskirts of
Charleston, South Carolina during the early
1920s. Greene sees Charleston as an island
in the stream of social progress. While the
rest of the country is searching for new life
styles, the residents of Charleston seem
happy to maintain a social structure that dis
appeared from the rest o f the nation after the
Civil War, nearly two generations prior to the
era of the novel.
Greene particularly enjoys juxtaposing the
orderly world of Charleston with the charle
ston, which is chaotic and unorganized, and
frow ned upon by the local residents. But
m any of the residents do want to try a new
dance, but have to do it behind closed and
W ritten in first person, Greene tells his tale
as a reminiscence. As a young boy in a city
that seems to be dominated by women (not
m any girls, either), the young hero needs
com panionship from a peer. He eventually is
introduced to a boy named Ned Grimke, who
seems to be quite strange at first. The de
scription o f G rim ke’s entrance seems to war
rant concern and intrigue of the narrator.
"Because of the angle of the sun, he was half
in and half out of the shadows; like a magi
d a n 's saw, white light sliced him diagonally. '
Depending on one’s viewpoint, that's either
rich in sym bolism or merely portentious.
It leans towards the latter. Either way.
Greene is desperate to let the reader know
how im portant Grimke is to the development
o f the story.
For the two boys, the intrigue leads to a
quick friendship. After a while, the two de
velop a more intimate relationship which
gives the narrator "a shiver as though trans
ported to winter." The explicit sexual
encounters between the two boys (Greene
never gives them ages, which makes the
characters more confusing than mysterious),
leads to a brief separation. They seem
destined to meet again. With a line like, " , . .
slim and lovely and blessed, his body looked
like a crude medieval crucifix in the m oon
light," there seems to be no question.
Green picks up the narrative as the char
acters become old enough to explore the
local homosexual speakeasy. In fact, Greene
nicely details the experience of realising
one’s sexual preference as being different
from just about everyone else's. Those are
the better m om ents of the novel.
But because the story takes place in a
southern town, and Greene seems to have
read the same Lillian Heilman and Tennes
see W illiams plays that the rest of us have, so
his story m ust have jealousies, betrayals and
Greene tries to hold the balance of these
with his commentaries. They are ap
lenty, and they aren't half as interesting as the
narrator’s awareness of being a m em ber of a
subculture, or his confusion as to the ram ifi
cations of his sexual preference. A love tri
angle which formed between the narrator,
Ned Grim ke and a powerful man named
Hirsch Hess seems to bog the novel down,
and the problem is that it takes up half the
b y K ristan Aspen
W om en W ho Loved W omen, by Tee
Corinne, is an incredible collection of images
from the Lesbian Family tree. Leafing
through the pages I met yet another cousin,
an aunt, o r grandm other I have not seen
before, and some I have never even heard of.
Where have these women been all my life?
Natalie Clifford Barney, Lorraine Hansberry,
Florence Wyle, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sylvia
Beach, Qui Jin, Mercedes de Acosta, Frida
Kahlo, Mary Edm onia Lewis. Here they are
assembled under one cover, the famous and
the not so famous, from many countries,
cultures, and races, my own herstory, my
sisters. The W omen W ho Locked W omen.
Surely I have known there were lesbians
before me, before publication of “ The Lad
der." At least I assumed there were. But how
close can I feel to women like Eleanor
Roosevelt, for example, who is rumored to
have been a lesbian? What proof do I have?
Last year when I was in New York City I visited
the Lesbian Herstory Archives and saw pic
tures o f ER that have been banned from pub
lic circulation by the Roosevelt Library. They
show Eleanor with her lover. Lorena. and
their friends, at the beach, in the woods,
cam ping, obviously enjoying each other as
only lesbians do. These pictures made
Eleanor Roosevelt real to me — to my her
story. And these pictures are not allowed out
of the archive and cannot be reprinted.
Gradually, I am beginning to see how
m uch has been denied me, even if I am “ out”
and accepted by my parents, and friends. As
lesbians we have had no access to our past.
How can we know who we are without knowl
edge of who we were?
An im portant visual link to 19th century
lesbians has recently been published here in
Oregon, by Tee Corinne, pioneering multi-
media artist and untiring art historian. Sec
uring copyright permission to reproduce
actual photographs of all the women in this
book under such an explicit title. Women
W ho Loved W omen, would have ben pro
hibitively expensive, tim e consum ing, and
absolutely impossible. So how did Tee do it?
First she researched to find paintings or
photos of the women who belonged in the
book. Then using photocopy enlargements
she altered the originals with conte, crayola,
oil pastels, nail polish remover, and liquid
paper, to create graphics reminiscent of
wood block prints or lithographs — Tee's
im pressions of oup dyke foremothers in an
In addition to the book, 11x17 size poster
reproductions of many of the images are
available in brown tones, distributed by Pell’s
W om ancrafts West in San Francisco.
W om en W ho Loved W omen by Tee
C orinne is available from Giovanni's Room,
345 S. 12th St., Philadelphia. PA 19107, and
also, in Portland, at A W oman's Place Book
store. 2349 S.E. Ankeny.
Wide Selection of:
• L e sb ia n /G a y
• B est Sellers,
• H a rd c o v e r an d
•P a p e r b a c k B o o k s .
• S p e cia l O rd ers
• G ift W rapp in g
• G ift C e rtific a te s
2 2 5 -0 8 8 0
4 2 4 N W 1 9 th A v e .
No C harge fo r Initial C onsultation
W omen Who
B O O K S
SNYDER & ALTM AN
A tto rn e y s at Law
Late in the novel, a possible murder is very
well handled by Greene, but he quickly drops
the event as just another step in the life of the
Only one m ajor (or even m inor) female
character can be found in Charleston. Mrs.
W ragg is sort of the "Big Daddy" of a halfway
hom e for the homosexual com m unity. It's
too bad Greene couldn't have developed
m ore female characters. His only com m ent
on wom en is rather condescending. "The
ladies of the confederate home — still clung
to them like bridal bouquets, eternal Miss
Havershams, they were vestal virgins."
Greene’s prose is similar to that of William
Styron. Thankfully, Greene controls his
language better. As a first novel. W hy We
N ever D anced the C harleston, is not a bad
effort. Greene shows a great deal of promise.
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