I knew there had to be a lesbian novel out there that was more than a mystery/romance/paranormal fantasy. And I found it. Thank you, Susan Stinson.
“Venus of Chalk”’s heroine is a lesbian. She is fat. But this isn’t a novel about lesbians or fat girls. It’s a brave paean to how we all feel different.
Carline is fat. She lives in terror of the teenage boys that hang out on the corner and call her names. When she tries to take the garbage out they throw lit cigarettes at her, forcing her to flee to her apartment. Worse, they release Carline’s own demons. To stifle them, Carline lights a match and holds it to her arm, “the physical pain…a focus, almost a relief.”
In the morning, ashamed and remorseful, she takes a call from her beloved Aunt Frankie in Chalk,Texas. Frankie is distraught over her best friend’s death and though she sounds brave enough, it isn’t until Carline catches her regular bus to work that she realizes how devastated her aunt must be. When her driver announces he is taking the bus to Dallas in the morning, for auction, Carline casually suggests he take along some passengers for company. Thus begins the simple, innocuous unraveling of Carline’s meticulously stitched life.
Stinson’s characters reveal unexpected complexities. Indeed the novel rests on the tender intimacies shared between these most unlikely of strangers on their trip to and subsequent arrival in Chalk. Stinson’s descriptions are visceral and immediate, her gift for metaphor lush and effective.
Though it was joy reading “Venus of Chalk”, I often had to put it down. Stinson made me think about uncomfortable things I did as a young woman, to protect myself as Carline did, from feelings of otherness, of being different. Too different. Most importantly “Venus of Chalk” reminded me of a simple but profound truth: the best way to affect change outside, is to change inside.
Well, hey. Thank you. This was a pleasure to run across. I’m so glad that you responded so strongly to Venus of Chalk. Here’s to unexpected complexities. Wishing you the best in your own work.
Lovely review. Love all of Stinson’s novels. And she’s a great interviewer. to boot.
I just used the term “brave paean” in an online post, and out of curiosity searched for other instances of it’s use. You and I are the only ones I found. We are *almost* unique.
Nice review and essay, btw. Thanks