THE BEARDED LADY by Sharlee Dieguez


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First-novelist Dieguez offers a richly conceived light comedy that, even so, sports an unprovocative conclusion and is very thin in execution. Jessie and Amanda —Tweets— Twillinger Foster are sisters who, when the story opens in 1901 in rural Georgia, are orphaned by the deaths of their parents. After spending a predictably dreadful couple of weeks with a resentful, domineering aunt, the girls run off to join the circus. There, they are embraced by performer Marion Des Cartes, a beautiful and predictably mysterious equestrienne. Tweets becomes an all-around helper with the troupe, while Jessie—who valiantly attempts to shave her face clean of the beard that insists on growing there—becomes an assistant to Rebel Pierce, a predictably domineering, swinish man. She polishes her accounting skills and finds herself privy to circus gossip, which she then sells to an Atlanta newspaper. Ultimately, Jessie begins to write her own articles for the paper, but it’s necessary for her also to grow out her beard and go on display as a circus curiosity in order to help pay for her expenses. Meanwhile, she falls in love with Marion—then eventually discovers that Marion has a penis. Along the way, there are some flirtations with identity and difference and with the place of women in a man’s world, but Dieguez is not really serious about any of it, and such issues become clever threads in this lollipop weave of a tale that appropriately concludes with a candy-cane dream of what might happen next. Not insufferably bad, and yet thoroughly unremarkable. The era and the predicament of Jessie and Tweets offer some intriguing possibilities for larger themes, but the reader has to do all the work to reveal them.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-892514-15-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Hill Street
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999