A Girl's Own Story

Teresa Stores’s third novel takes us back to the 1960s, where a young lesbian in Jacksonville, Fla., navigates religion, family, and politics.

BY Charlotte Abbott

September 23 2008 11:00 PM ET

Coming-of-age
stories will always retain appeal for gay people. They
remind us that we can emerge whole from family dysfunction
-- even when queerness is seen as an unforgivable sin
-- and that the unique unhappiness of other families
can be fascinating.

Big New York
publishing houses aim most of these types of novels at the
teen market. So it’s refreshing to find that
Backslide, by Teresa Stores, was written for
adults. Don’t let the uninspired brown-and-red cover
deceive you: The story, published by indie press
Spinsters Ink, illustrates in living color what it was
like to grow up as a Southern Baptist in the ’60s,
navigating the bumpy road from loneliness and sexual denial
to self-assurance.

The outlines of
Virge Young’s fictional journey -- from an earnest
young churchgoer smothered in polyester and panty hose
to a spiky blond lesbian mother who defends her
lifestyle on national TV -- are both familiar and
idealized. But it’s the depth of Stores’s
characterizations of the protagonist’s friends
and family that give Backslide its resonance.

Told largely in
flashback, the book centers on Virge’s youth in
Jacksonville, Fla., in a working-class family, where she
tries -- and fails -- to make herself invisible to her
iron-fisted father. When Virge brings home her best
friend, Ricki Ann, her father is enraged by the
girl’s flirty blue eye shadow and tight
“Snoopy for President” T-shirt, which he
deems “unpatriotic.” But those charms
aren’t lost on Virge, who agrees to practice
kissing with Ricki Ann because they’re about to enter
junior high and “should be all ready.”
It’s a familiar scenario, yet full of yearning
that becomes even more palpable after Ricki Ann drops Virge
for more popular friends the following school year.
It’s to Stores’s credit that Ricki Ann
remains as vivid and shrewd a foe as she was a friend.

Tags: Books

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