Lost Lesbian Lit is a series of essays about lesbian literature from before 2010 with fewer than 25 ratings on Goodreads — mostly found at Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. This month, Matricide by Carla Tomaso.
In Sarah Schulman’s The Sophie Horowitz Story, a group of lesbians knock on the titular protagonist’s door to let her know she’s canceled. Sophie is a lesbian journalist who writes for Feminist News! and, since Twitter doesn’t exist, IRL is the only way for these queers to let another queer know they’re displeased.
Be gay for long enough, and you’ll see the same behaviors, the same problems, occur again and again. We’re in a perpetual state of community déjà vu. It’s tempting to blame new individuals, new technologies, new generations — it’s trickier to confront the reality that human beings are actually rather consistent.
This is why I love history and why works of art are some of my favorite historical objects. We can learn so much from the stories of the past, noting how queer life has shifted, noting how it’s stayed the same.
Since I was a kid, books are where I’ve most frequently turned to for consistency. When I’m in a new place, setting up a bookshelf is how I nest — even a temporary bookshelf on a night stand or in the corner of a room. When I’m in a new city — for work, for love, to travel, to live — bookstores are often my first stop.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been spending about half my time in Toronto. I fell in love with a Canadian and fell into a bi-national life. The modern cliché of lesbian long-distance continues the classic cliché of lesbian longing. But, for me, Toronto quickly felt like home — maybe because I was in love or maybe because it’s one of the best bookstore cities I’ve ever encountered.
Someday when I’m rich, I will fill my home with rare artifacts from Acadia Books on Queen St., but as a queer in my 20s, Glad Day Bookshop on Church St. is my current haven. The oldest queer bookstore in the world, Glad Day is filled with new work and old treasures. I first went there for a dance party and have returned many times to peruse their well-organized mix of new releases and old oddities.
At your average used bookstore, I’ll buy anything I stumble upon that’s gay. Here, that would mean buying out the whole store. The lesbian section includes expected authors like Sarah Schulman, but it also has dozens of names I’ve never heard of — and, based on cursory looks at Goodreads and Storygraph, neither have you.
On my first trip to this section, my eyes gravitated toward Carla Tomaso’s Matricide. The back cover begins: “Every woman has considered murdering her mother at least once,wp_postsand my curiosity was clenched. I opened the book and noted its publication year — 1994 — and its dedication — For Naomi — before turning to chapter one.
“It was one of those mornings when getting out of bed seemed impossible, even dangerous,wp_postsTomaso begins. “All I could think of to do instead of lying there forever was to try to find somebody and fall in love.wp_postsThat settled it. I walked up to one of the various hot queer employees who work at Glad Day and purchased the book.
I continued reading on the TTC back to my girlfriend’s apartment and was delighted to discover that the very first page included the protagonist having a Fellini-esque (her words, not mine) nightmare about killing her mother and referenced Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Colette. The very first page! This is what’s possible when queer bookstores exist, when our stories from three decades past are casually preserved.
There are lesbian books, and then there is Matricide. Give me a few more years frequenting Glad Day before I make this claim, but Matricide may just be the most lesbian book — at least in regards to a certain type of lesbian culture and experience.
Matricide follows its sardonic high school English teacher narrator as she embarks on a writers conference with her friend/boss Doris and her former student/current mentee in lesbianism Tina. At the conference, the narrator meets the poet-in-residence Blair Bennet and begins a toxic affair. If this wasn’t gay enough for you, the book lives up to its name with threads of the narrator’s murderous mommy issues running throughout — and includes (mostly mediocre) poems written by its various characters (who themselves acknowledge them as mediocre).
Here’s an example of one of the poems written by the narrator:
Women Who Love Men
A heterosexual woman I know
Wants something from me.
She wants to suck on my breast.
She wants to put two fingers into
The warm sea cave between my legs.
She wants to lie against me in bed
My soft stomach supporting
The small of her back
She doesn’t want me.
Just my stomach and breasts and vagina
Like a narcotic or a vacation
Or a mother.
And I am afraid of her.
The book is extremely sexual. Tomaso writes lesbian sex with a casual explicitness that makes clear her only intended audience was other dykes. There is no respectability politic to found — just messy queers fucking and fucking up.
While the book is sexy and funny, it evolves into something far darker. The narrator may joke about wanting to kill her mother — and attempting to kill her mother — but the cause of these feelings is ultimately something very painful. The narrator spends most of the book masking trauma and abuse with humor, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t traumatized and abused. The book confronts this darkness in a way that some readers may find unsettling — others, like me, will also find it fascinating.
One of the blurbs on the back cover states, “Matricide is lesbian life sharply sliced thin.wp_postsIt’s as true today as it was 30 years ago. The book is a document of lesbianism in 1994 and a testament to the many ways we haven’t changed. The specifics may shift, but the feelings, the dynamics, the connections, the pain, they remain static decade after decade.
And, hell, even the specifics often don’t change. Sometimes the only way to get out of bed is to find somebody and fall in love. Sometimes that somebody is an older dyke poetess. Sometimes that somebody is just a good book.