In her eighth novel, Miner (Range of Light, 1998, etc.) celebrates friendship among a group of lesbians in rural California.
Serious, reserved Emily and ebullient Salerno met in a lesbian bar in Berkeley. A perfect match, they’ve been partners for 15 years. Fifty-year-old Emily is a city planner in Chicago, the somewhat younger Salerno a jazz saxophonist. They, along with three female friends, bought a ranch in the hills of Northern California, each building separate houses (in Emily and Salerno’s case, a one-room cabin). Emily has just arrived for a vacation when she learns that Salerno, returning from a gig in Arizona, has died in a plane crash. Emily is devastated, and the novel details her grief. But her loss is transcended by the warm camaraderie of her Beulah Ranch friends. Her first thought is to sell her portion of the ranch (she gets help from her brother Michael, a real-estate lawyer in San Francisco), but her friends are aghast. They love her. She must stay. The reader knows before Emily does that she is here for keeps. The reader also knows before Emily that Eva, the young Latina forest ranger with “the rich caramel-colored skin and the hazel-almost golden-eyes,” will provide Emily with more than just friendship. As an antidote to the abundant sweetness of the group, and in lieu of a plot, Miner describes threats to their idyllic existence: a rash of fires set by an arsonist, obnoxious evangelicals pushing Creationism, loggers intent on clear-cutting. Miner also gets some mileage out of an Indian artifact Emily discovers on her land. In this righteous work, in which it’s cool to be ethnic but not a WASP (Emily resents that she’s half-WASP), she naturally donates it to the Pomo reservation.
Miner does much better with her evocation of place than with her characterizations, which are shallow.