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Fag Hag

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago

Fag Hag

 

http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/f&sf/93-02.html

 

 

Fag Hag, Robert Rodi (Dutton, cloth, 296 pp, $20)

 

Anyone who has ever moved along the borders of the homosexual community (which means, in my case, anyone who has been actively involved in theatre) has probably run into the phenomenon of women who seem endlessly fascinated with men who are simply not fascinated back. While "fag hag" is a cruel and contemptuous slang term for such women, it is also memorable, and when I saw the hot maroon title on a vivid green background on the jacket of this book, the words leapt out at me as, no doubt, the cover designer meant them to do. It brought back memories of my bafflement in college days.

 

Examining the book in the bookstore, it became clear that this was a book that could be just as cruel as its title. The author is clearly identified as gay, and the storyline clearly puts the heterosexual women in the role of "bad guy," as Natalie cannot bring herself to accept the fact that this time her friend (and fixation), Peter, has found genuine love instead of just another fling. She has lost him, or at least lost possession of him, and she can't bear it; so she sets out to win him back, and if she can't do that, well, she'll find some way to keep him from leaving her, even if it involves the teensiest bit of violence and coercion.

 

Now, I well know, as I held the book in my hands, that stories written from inside a minority community often have serious problems reaching people from outside that community. I've seen the phenomenon often enough with fiction by and about Mormons. Most Mormon writers, when writing for the mainstream audience about their own people, tend either to try to explain to the outsider how wonderful it is to be Mormon or to complain about all their grievances with the Mormon community in hopes of making the reader as angry about Mormons as the writer is. Both approaches usually leave the non-Mormon reader baffled, since he basically has no stake in the community and really doesn't care. The result has been that in the New York publishing business it is widely known that "Mormon books don't sell."

 

Of course, Mormon books of exactly the type I've described do sell -- within the Mormon community itself. And the same thing is true of gay fiction. It sells within its own community, but fiction by and about gays aimed at the general audience often falls into the same errors: either trying to show how wonderful (or tragically noble) it is to be gay, or "doing a number" on negative types within the gay community. In neither case is the mainstream audience likely to be terribly interested.

 

But this book seemed different. For one thing, the author was daring enough to tell the story, not from the point of view of the victimized Peter, but from the point of view of Natalie herself. For another thing, right from the start Peter was shown as being beautiful but shallow. If this was a gimmick Rodi used to overcome the assumption of most straight readers that a story about a gay by a gay would be worshipful, well, the gimmick worked.

 

I bought the book. I started reading. And I soon realized that I was in the hands of a masterful storyteller who was trying to do with gay society what I have tried to do with Mormon society in those few stories I've written that are set within it: To tell a truthful, entertaining story about fascinating characters in a strange but real milieu without ever asking the reader either to approve or disapprove of the community the characters belong to.

 

I hope I've been even partially as successful as Rodi was with this book. It is a comic novel, of course, and much is sharpened for comic effect. Rodi's presentation of some flamboyantly bitchy or effeminate characters is funny, yes, but never at the cost of reality or understanding. Nobody is saintly, and nobody is evil -- not even Natalie, not even when she's doing the most cruel things to hold onto the man she "loves." There is the ring of truth in everything Rodi does, if only because he never leaves a stereotype unsubverted, never lets us evade the consequences of an act of cruelty, and always forces us to see how even the most insane behavior looks from the point of view of the person who did it.

 

By talking so seriously, of course, I have probably led you to miss the most important fact about this book: It's funny. It's good. I don't have the same moral worldview as the author, of course, but then I often don't. What matters to me -- and the reason why I'm reviewing this book in a column that (yes, I remembered) is supposedly devoted to science fiction and fantasy -- is that Rodi, with his first novel, has done a marvelous job of introducing readers into an unfamiliar society, giving depth and detail and attitude until you feel that you've lived there. Of course, Rodi has the advantage that those in our field who write about made-up societies never have: He has lived there. Robert Forward didn't have that luxury as he wrote Dragon's Egg, for instance, and if he ever had visited the surface of a neuron star I doubt he'd have felt like writing when he got back. But that doesn't change the fact that much of science fiction is written about passages across the borderlines of strange lands. Just as Clavell's Shogun is widely regarded as an ideal of world-creation, I think Rodi's Fag Hag can also serve as a useful exemplar of community-creation.

 

But hey, you don't have to think of it as medicine or anything. You can switch off your brain at the beginning of the book and Rodi will give you several hours of wonderful dumb fun. There aren't enough books that can do that, either.

 

http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/f&sf/93-02.html

 

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