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by Elizabeth Stark
Seal Press, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 5th 2001

Shy Girl

Alta is twenty three years old, and she lives in San Francisco. She's only ever had one serious relationship, with Shy, her next door neighbor, who left town suddenly and with no explanation when Alta was seventeen. The two girls had been best friends since they were very young, and their romantic relationship lasted three or four years. Since Shy left, Alta has made her life in youthful lesbian world of San Francisco -- now she prides herself on being able to get any woman she likes into bed, and then say goodbye the next morning. Although her own body is unpierced, she does have tatoos, (the Virgin of Guadalupe on one arm, and Cat Woman on the other) and she works as a body piercer. She knows the impression she makes as she rides around the city on her motorcycle. Six years after, she is over her relationship with Shy, and she is now happy with her life.

Then her mother calls, and tells her that Shy's mother has been rushed to hospital and is unconscious -- shouldn't Alta let Shy know what has happened? Returning to her old home means dredging up many memories for Alta, and it only gets more complicated when Shy eventually comes back to town, (pregnant!), to see her dying mother.

Shy's mother was an unhappy reclusive woman, often drunk, but she was also extremely kind to Alta after left town. Alta wonders about the life of the woman dying in the hospital, and starts to ask the two women who knew the old lady when she was a girl. Eventually, the truth of the past starts to unfold.

Elizabeth Stark's novel is a quick, enjoyable read, with a quick pace and plenty of sensual episodes. It features some of the dyke-life of San Francisco, with parties, bars, cafes, and of course a tatoo parlor. The characters are well drawn, and the reader gets a strong sense of the relationship between Alta and Shy as it was and as it is now. Although this is easily classified as a "lesbian novel," it makes no claims to be definitive of a certain kind of experience; the characters are full enough to stand up on their own, as people dealing with life. It is more than just the story of the relationship between Shy and Alta or a depiction of a lesbian community. It shows how Alta struggles to come to terms with her own past and with history, and as such, it's an ambitious and successful work.

© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.


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