This book has two parallel protagonists. Abbey Zimet is a high school senior (in her last year) in Washington DC in 2017. Janet Jones (destined to become Janet Smith) occupies the same position in 1955. Both young women are lesbian. Naturally they face very different responses to their sexual orientation, acceptance in 2017, persecution in 1955.
Both Abbey and Janet are writers. For a class project Abbey writes a story featuring lesbian characters. She is prompted to tell this story by reading Janet’s one and only novel, entitled Women of the Twilight Realm. The book was of course written and published under a significant nom de plume, Marian Love. Abbey is in a difficult family situation. Her parents are on the point of separating, though this remains unstated. She is also in a tricky relationship with Linh, who was formerly Abbey’s girlfriend. Driven by these difficulties, Abbey becomes obsessed with a quest. She must discover the true identity of Marian Love. The novel now poses two questions. Can Abbey accomplish her quest? And if she does, what will she discover?
Talley has set herself a challenging task, to focus on two very different times, to depict each of them and its mores convincingly and to unite the two into a single narrative. She meets this challenge in a very effective manner – a genuine tour de force. Talley also captures an important truth about the act of literary composition. Writers absorb themselves in the details of the world they create, and use that world as a locus in which they can resolve or at least evade the complexities of real-world life.
Talley’s book holds a great appeal for any young person who feels different from the norm, sexually, psychically or in any other way. This reviewer has one misgiving about Talley’s excellent novel, not so much a misgiving as an unfulfilled expectation. She writes of the so-called Lavender Scare which took place in 1955. It was a savage witch-hunt aimed at any ‘sexual deviant’. This was a campaign fully as dark and cruel as Senator Joe McCarthy’s persecution of the socialist American minority. A whole book could have been made from this largely neglected episode. Perhaps it will be.