September 15, 2015
Ann Weldy was a Philadelphia housewife in 1957 when her first novel, a lesbian romance credited to “A. Bannon,” became a bestseller for Gold Medal Books. ANN BANNON (born 1932) would publish four more lesbian pulps over the next five years — a pentalogy dubbed “the Beebo Brinker chronicles” when reprinted by the feminist Naiad Press in the early Eighties. In fact, the sequence has no true central character. Odd Girl Out opens on Beth, a popular senior at a Midwestern university; by the end, the focus is on her adoring roommate, Laura, a self-injurer with father issues. In I Am a Woman (1959), Laura moves to New York, befriends Jack, a gay man, and submits to Beebo, transplanted farmgirl and dominant butch. Women in the Shadows (1959) has Laura and Jack shacking up as mutual beards, and Beebo scheming to win her back — to the extent of fabricating a gang rape and butchering a pet dog. Hausfrau Beth returns in Journey to a Woman (1960) for an affair with a consumptive lesbian from a family of Gothic weirdos. Beebo’s ongoing travails substantiate the closer, 1962’s Beebo Brinker.
This is no pre-Stonewall wonderland of prescient P.C. The novels describe a timespan far broader than five years (the narrative chronology is as inconsistent as the characters), and their sexual politics are, well, confused, featuring intimacies both loving and sadistic, tender and floridly pathological. That’s partly pulp, but mostly it’s Bannon trying to balance wish against conditioning, eros against ethos. The attempt, while grimly fascinating and in gay-lit terms historic, is raw, painful, sometimes stupefying. Bannon wants her characters to live truthfully and happily, but she taxes them dearly for their outsiderhood, and it’s often hard to tell if she’s exposing or endorsing their deluded rationalizations and emotional cannibalisms. “Someday we’ll die and go to heaven,” says Jack. “All the angels are queer, you know.” Is that hopeful or despairing? Subversive or morbid? Both?
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).