BITTERSWEET by Nevada Barr


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Two lesbian lovers from Pennsylvania take on frontier Nevada in the 1870s, escaping from the double trouble of sexual double standards--in a non-explicit Sapphic western, with the emphasis on some bizarre pioneer coping. Imogene Grelznik, a "giantess" in loneliness as well as physique, has been driven from her teaching job in Philadelphia because of "immorality." So Imogene relocates to the remote town of Calliope, Pa., where one of her pupils is Sarah--sweet child of an autocratic, greedy father and overworked mother; Imogene encourages Sarah to paint, expands her horizons. But then Sarah's married off at 16 to farmer Sam Ebbitt. ("Marriage isn't to like or not to like," says Mother, resigned toter of Woman's Burden.) And though Sarah's not unwilling--sex promises to be rather fun--Sam considers a woman's pleasure in the act "whorish" . . . and beats Sarah to a pulp. Even worse beatings follow when Sarah defends Imogene (whose scandalous past is revealed); Sam disowns Sarah, takes possession of baby Matthew. Now Imogene, loving Sarah helplessly, must nurse her back to health both physically and mentally: they flee to Reno, Nevada, where happier days ensue. Sarah cares for little half-breed Wolf, a tot sired by roughly good-looking Nate Weldrick; the women teach in a good private school. Still, after Wolf's shadowy death, muddled Sarah thinks of marrying Nate as a crazy kind of expiation--so Imogene carts her off to "Round Hole," where they manage a carriage-stop in a godforsaken arid waste. And eventually, with help from gentle loner Karl Saunders, the women undertake the most daring exploit of all: there'll be an unusual marriage and the homecoming of six-year-old Matthew (Sam has died) before the bittersweet end. Outcast love in alkali flats--an easy-read yarn with lots of gay-pride preachment but no graphic sex.
Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1984
ISBN: 0380799502
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1984


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