Buy from Bywater Books
One of the reasons I brought this blog back to life is the political climate in our country these days. Queer writing of any sort has always been a rebellious act. Make it romantic, make it raunchy, make it strident, make it sweet, make it so beautiful that even our most vile enemies can’t hold back their tears. But make it count. And the more voices we can muster, the louder our collective cry will be. Marianne K. Martin’s latest, The Liberators of Willow Run, shouts freedom from the rooftops for the disenfranchised of all stripes.
Audrey works at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Detroit, making B-24 bomber planes essential for victory in WWII. Rose works at a nearby restaurant, having gotten the job after a stay at the Crittenton Home for unwed mothers. Nona is a young black woman also employed at the plant, but she has a plan for her education and a career in mind. Together, they conspire to prevent Amelia, also a Crittenton resident, from returning to a less-than-desireable home situation as Audrey and Rose fall in love.
Martin draws all these plot elements together with a sure, steady hand, creating characters that live and breathe on the page. Moreover, they fight. They fight for respect at work, they fight for love, they fight for the right to do as they please with their bodies and their lives. But most importantly, they fight for each other as they risk bucking the whole white patriarchial system. They are more than cute, scrappy fighters, too. Their struggles are real in ways we are about to become all too well-acquainted with again.
But there is little, if any, polemic here. Instead, Martin serves us people—strong and indomitable, yes, but as fragile as we all can be. Audrey, in an attempt to lay bare her life to Rose, takes her to meet her former lover, Velma, confined to a nursing home as the result of a so-called “cure” for her “condition.” If I take anything away from this book, it will be this scene between these three women. It brought tears to my eyes then and does now as I write about it.
Martin also shows a mastery of suspense as Audrey and Rose concoct and carry out an improbable scheme to rescue Amelia, putting a delicious spin on the title of the book. The event and subsequent investigation by the police is taut and well-spun. And when the plant closes, and the women are again relegated to secondary roles in society, Martin has plans for them. Just as it should be.
The Liberators of Willow Run isn’t just a good read. It’s essential. It’s a primer for struggle, a reminder of what was, and a cautionary tale of what may be around the corner. Highly recommended.