Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest

Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest

Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest is considered one of the great landmark lesbian romances, a true classic. So, I looked forward to a dry, overhyped novel that was more famous for daring to mention women kissing in 1983 than for its romantic merits.

It was beautiful. Turns out, I do like romances - it's just that my standards are too high, and this is one of the few books that makes the simple interactions and affections of two people worth reading, with no other real plot or distraction.

Best selling, a masterpiece, classic of lesbian literature - there is a multitude of praise out there for this book, but none of them say that it's so beautiful (or at least, not the ones I saw, I'm probably going to come across a dozen or so as soon as I finish writing this review).

Diana is dragged out to a lodge by her friend for a week of skiing and gambling in breathtaking Lake Tahoe, joining several other women - various acquaintances of the women who owns the cabin. She also meets Lane, and can't take her eyes off her. Cool, reserved, gorgeous and intimidating Lane opens up a shared passion and sensitivity for beauty and photography to gentle Diana and soon, they're sharing rather more. Neither woman expects it, and both have a steady history of relationships with men (actually, Lane is aware that is capable of being attracted to women, but has never really pursued it, Diana has never even considered the possibility).

From there, they share more and more intimacy and these scenes are some of the best written love scenes I've come across. All softness and melting and discovery, and two quite different women who are utterly enthralled by each other. Gradually, the book shifts from the group of women, and Diana's trips to the casino, to more and more sexual intimacy - mirroring their inability to keep their hands off each other, and their growing acceptance of their sudden attraction. This is also quite delightful, as many book romances have a fairly intense sex scene at the start, followed by either repetition, or 'fade to blacks' or nothing at all, rather than starting out gentle and steadily increasing the scope and intensity.

It is set in 1978, and mostly this barely matters. There are some dated aspects - casual racism from some of the women, the trust exercises that they all engage in one night (with highly emotional results) - but these aren't exactly dead and gone. I can easily imagine most of the people expressing the same sentiments, and engaging in the same activities, today. Although possibly a little more self consciously.

I didn't like most of the characters, who were mostly either flawed or hurting, but this just emphasised how fragile and wonderful what shone between Diana and Lane was. It also gave them a reason to keep their relationship hidden, so it was only ever about them, and provided a fairly delicious sense of secrecy.

It isn't very long, but the story fits that perfectly. Any longer and it would have dragged and wandered into a new story. Any shorter, and I would have felt cheated and bereft.

A final note - technically, this is a bisexual love affair, as both women were attracted to men, although not nearly as much as they were to each other. Or not in quite the same way. But that's a minor quibble, and I'm only raising it because bisexuals get overlooked so much, despite actually appearing quite often. And it's also because publishers used to refuse to publish lesbain books without the woman having first 'tried men'.

Read this book. Keep it. It's wonderful, and fully deserves to be 'one of the most popular lesbian romances of all time'.

You can download Curious Wine or order the paperback or audiobook from AmazonIt, along with most of Katherine V. Forrest's other books, have been recently republished and are readily available.

Why doesn't this amazing book have a ream of awards? Because it was published in 1983, and the longest running GLBTQ awards are the Stonewall Book Awards, which started in 1971 but didn't get to pick more than one book a year until the 1990s, and the Lambda Literary Awards which began in 1988.

Katherine V. Forrest has picked up several awards for her science fiction and lesbian mystery Kate Delafield series; starting with Daughters of a Coral Dawn and Amateur Cityrespectively. She was also an Alice B Award winner in 2005.

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