Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Aside from the ridiculous plot, lesbian novel not a bad read
YOU can't get away with anything in this city. Winnipeg is a small town masquerading as a big city, and sometimes it feels as though everyone knows everyone else's business.
Self-declared lesbian writer Rebecca Swartz was born in Winnipeg and understands that anyone who identifies with any specific community here is likely, at the very least, to be familiar with the names of most other members of that group.
The women in Swartz's first novel, however, are on slightly more intimate terms with one another -- to put it mildly.
If Swartz is hoping to reach a wide audience with Everything Pales in Comparison, she may be disappointed. It's a sort of Harlequin romance, lesbian-style, mixed with a crime novel, and that seems like a rather specific genre. Her storyline is somewhat improbable, as well.
Another problem is the novel's low-budget design. Swartz's publisher, a small Florida house, nevertheless bills itself as North America's largest publisher of lesbian fiction.
Although Swartz adeptly conveys the intertwined, somewhat incestuous relationships that are byproducts of the relatively small Winnipeg lesbian community, the plot is implausible; she conveniently manufactures far-fetched events that solve any potential impasses to furthering the story.
Fictional depictions of the lesbian community (particularly the Winnipeg community), and of lesbian relationships in general, are few and far between, though.
Expectations for Swartz's writing, then, may be higher than they would be of another crime novel's author. In this respect, she should be congratulated for taking the chance on telling a unique story with believable characters with whom some women may identify.
The intrigue in Everything Pales in Comparison is supposed to be centred on a very public attempt (at "the Winnipeg Concert Hall") to murder 28-year-old lesbian country-music star Daina Buchanan by blowing up the stage. The cavalry rides into town, of course, in the person of uniform-clad constable Emma Kirkby, 31.
The relationship that develops from this point forward, to which "everything pales in comparison," is Swartz's main focus.
Both women are well-developed (no pun intended) characters and, thankfully, not simply lesbian stereotypes. Emma, ironically, is the more introverted of the two, while Daina is unrestrained.
Of Daina, Swartz writes that she "had always turned to music as a means of solace," and that it "became a tool which she used to dismantle the machines of self-destruction that often threatened to undermine her foundation and bring her to her knees."
Emma, who "believed herself capable of dealing with anything," is an effective counterbalance to Daina's character. In this respect, then, Swartz's writing is good. It's in the unfortunate preposterousness of the plot that Swartz falters.
When the story centres on the attack on Daina's life, too many coincidences occur that lead to unlikely outcomes with the sole purpose, it would seem, of furthering the relationship among the two women. When the attacker is revealed, incredulity is stretched to the limit.
Swartz's writing is at its best in depicting the women's relationship as it heats up. Some fairly steamy scenes are played out in great detail. The balance of power (relatively speaking, since Emma is a police officer) is quite even between the two women, something that may not be the norm in many fictional lesbian relationships.
That Swartz takes the chance of depicting two women in intimate scenarios is another point in her favour. A novel set in Winnipeg is always fun to read, as well. If only it weren't for that plot.
Elizabeth Hopkins is a Winnipeg writer.
Everything Pales in Comparison
By Rebecca Swartz
Bella Books, 286 pages, $16
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2012 J9
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