Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown – 1973 – LGBTQ+
Molly Bolt is on of the most feisty, irrepressible heroines of modern literature. Illegitimate, irreverent and lesbian she shocks and scandalises people wherever she goes. Starting with the small-town school in Pennsylvania where she discovers that only women give her that peculiar feeling in the stomach, to the University of Florida that expels her for ‘moral turpitude’ despite her first-class grades, to the New York art set that love her, despise her and even try to buy her, Molly is a rebel with many causes.
But Molly belongs to nobody but herself. Whether she is making love all night in a child’s playground, waiting tables in a bunny costume or excelling, against all odds, at juggling a day job and film school, there isn’t a soul who can match her for wit, optimism and sheer effrontery.
The story is told from Molly’s point of view. I wasn’t a fan of Molly, although I did like that she was an independent character at a time when mothers still expected their daughters to get married and do very little else. She was not a nice character, and she often treat people as though they were worth very little. She would have boyfriends, and then laugh about them while sleeping with other girls, or she would make remarks about people based on their race or them being a butch lesbian, which she compares unfavourably to men.
She also doesn’t make much change during the novel. From her teens to the end of the book she is homophobic and has a bad attitude towards other people, from her mother to the “boyfriends” she has.
I’m glad I read this book because it’s an important part of the LGBT novel-sphere. I really enjoyed the wry humour of the novel, it’s definitely one of the oddest novels I’ve read in a while. The book is split into 4 parts depending on Molly’s life at that time, and my favourite part was her time at university. I really loved her relationship with Faye and the humour that came from that section.
This was not a happy book! Every relationship Molly is in is doomed to fail, which was definitely a trope of earlier LGBT books in that the gay character is not allowed to have a happy ending and this is no different. I think if this book had been written 30 or 40 years later it would have had a happier plot, but this is a great example of the LGBT fiction of the time.
There are definite issues with this book. As I said, Molly often makes comments that would certainly be considered racist now, or she compares sleeping with butch women saying if she wanted someone that looked like a man, she would just have a man. There are also instances of incest, including Molly and her cousin, as well as a mother and daughter.
I gave this book 4/5 on Goodreads. Despite the issues with the book, I found this a funny book and definitely a worthwhile read for insight into older LGBT books.