The Girls Club – Sally Bellerose (Bywater Books)

Buy it now direct from Bywater Books

I’m an only child and have always longed to have
siblings—someone to tell my deepest, darkest secrets to; someone to hang with;
someone who remembers me from way back when. My late partner and others have assured
me that is a romantic and totally misguided notion. No one can fuck you up
worse than your brothers or sisters. Yet, the fantasy persists, brought to the
fore again by Sally Bellerose’s wonderful novel The Girls Club.

Cora Rose LaBarre lives in a working class neighborhood with
her sisters Marie, who likes to sleep around, and Renee, a prim and proper
nursing student. The novel follows their adventures in the 1970s, from births
to marriages to operations to—yes—coming out. Cora Rose is a budding lesbian
who, bored and trapped by a marriage she didn’t want and a child she wasn’t
crazy about having, decides to break out of her life. She goes to nursing
school and hangs out at the local lesbian bar, The Girls Club.

Bellerose is a magnificent writer with a particular talent
for character. You know each and every one of these sisters by the second or
third chapter. Her Cora Rose is an outwardly fragile bundle of insecurities,
caused largely by her ulcerative colitis and then her ostomy, but she has a steely
core that enables her to stand up to her husband as well as defy everyone’s
expectations. Cora Rose is a marvelous character, but Marie and Renee are just
as well-drawn. Marie, the worldly font of relationship and parenting wisdom, is
a short-tempered firecracker with an unexpectedly sweet side. Renee is more
conservative but still has the grace and aplomb to dance with her sister in a
lesbian bar.

Also noteworthy is Cora Rose’s husband, Joe. Many terrific
writers of women’s fiction (if there is such a thing as women’s fiction)
seem to draw blanks when it comes to writing men. Not Bellerose. Her Joe is a
clearly delineated, beautifully detailed 1970s husband, caught between
traditional values and changing times. The struggles between Cora Rose and Joe
are very true to life and sound just like the ones I heard my parents having as
I listened to them through the heating vent when I should have been asleep.

The plot? Nothing more than life itself. There is no mystery
to solve or objective to accomplish other than surviving what is thrown at the
characters, and that’s the marvel of this book. Bellerose moves these wonderous
creations of hers through the ordinary pitfalls of life, showcasing their
heartbreaks, their triumphs and their shame with equal assurance. The Girls
is an incredible book—not just for girls, but for everyone.

Even only children.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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