In graduate school, a woman I was in love with gave me a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s “The Passion” and promised it would change me. And it did. It was an uncomfortable read. Mad and operatic. Typical of Winterson in its tone and mode, as I would learn afterward, but startling in that first read. I remember having to remind myself to breathe. And the scene where the web-footed woman takes her gondola to the house of her married lover in order for her poor insane friend to steal back her still-beating heart is, even now, the way I conceptualize breakups. Messy, furtive, dreamy, improbable.
Winterson made it clear to me that modern literary fiction can play against all expectation by using myth and allegory as they were used when we were children. By scaring us. By telling stories about unsympathetic people doing unsympathetic things. By leaping through time and consciousness in a single paragraph. By changing stories midway through a book and just expecting the reader to catch up. To trust you.
Winterson made me feel more alive in the world.
And for ages—in some ways, even now—she was my only exposure to the classics of the lesbian canon. I’m still self conscious about missing Lesbian 101 where I should have read books like “The Price of Salt” or “Curious Wine” or “Beyond the Pale” or “Sea of Light.” Until this trip to PTown, I’d never even heard of three of these titles.
By the time I came out with the requisite bravery, I was reading Sarah Waters and Ali Smith and Val McDermid and wondering why all these fantastic books were from U.K. writers, and what that meant.
Sometimes I still feel like a tourist. Trying to orientate my map, enjoying the local dialect, the scenery and shopping, the variety of companionship in this place where I live.