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Lisa Alther (born July 23, 1944)

American novelist Lisa Alther creates fictional worlds in which lesbianism is a fluctuating force as tenuous as all other forms of relationships in a frequently absurd universe.

Born July 23, 1944, in Tennessee, Alther had a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a surgeon. Educated at Wellesley College in the 1960s, Alther experienced firsthand the tumultuous events that were to be portrayed so vividly in her best-known novel, Kinflicks (1976).

This satirical novel, Alther's first, met with tremendous popular success, shooting to the top of the best-seller list. Ginny Babcock, the book's heroine, leaves her Tennessee home to attend Worthley College, an elite women's college in the East, where she meets Eddie, a fiery young radical lesbian. In order to sort out their new priorities, Ginny and Eddie leave college, live in Boston, and finally, move to a lesbian communal farm in Vermont. Life on the farm is hectic and hilarious since none of the residents have any extensive knowledge of farming.

But lesbianism is only one phase in Ginny's constantly changing life: Next, she tries marriage to a man, and at the conclusion of the novel, she leaves her husband to return to the South to minister to her dying mother. This novel is memorable for its depiction of lesbian feminism and separatist politics in the 1960s and for presenting lesbianism as a desirable way of relating to other women.

Alther's other novels also focus on the dynamics of lesbian interactions. Original Sins (1981) shows one of its central characters, Emily, coming to recognize her lesbianism against the background of the women's rights struggle and the civil rights movement.

Other Women (1984) explores the relationship between Caroline Kelley and her lover, charting the changes in it as Caroline undergoes psychotherapy. She struggles to understand her relationship to her therapist and her parents, as well as the seemingly random and awful happenings in the world. This novel depicts the often ludicrous behavior of both heterosexuals and homosexuals, without suggesting that one group is superior to the other.

Bedrock (1990), like many of Alther's novels, shows how difficult it is to define who is a lesbian and who is not. Clea Shawn is married and has children, yet she has a friendship with another woman, Elke, which is described as a "charged connection" compared to the "more comfortable old-shoe camaraderie each shared with her husband."

Neither of these women is explicitly identified as lesbian, and Elke even wonders, "Like the tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, if you didn't act on your attraction to women, were you nevertheless a lesbian?" Alther provides no clear answer to this question but does show lesbian relationships as one of the many ways in which women try to communicate with each other.

In Alther's fictional world, lesbianism is a fluctuating force, which is as tenuous as all other forms of relationships in a universe that frequently appears frighteningly absurd. Alther points out that any form of relationship between humans, including lesbianism, deserves our understanding and sympathy since, as the Cheshire Cat observes in Alice in Wonderland, "we're all mad here."

Citation Information
Author: Inness, Sherrie A.
Entry Title: Alther, Lisa
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated February 4, 2002
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/alther_l.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date July 23, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Kinflicks by Lisa Alther
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (May 6, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1860497098
ISBN-13: 978-1860497094
Amazon: Kinflicks
Amazon Kindle: Kinflicks

Meet Ginny Babcock - the forerunner to BRIDGET JONES It's the 1950's and 60's in Hullsport, Tennessee and Ginny Babcock is coming of age. Bouncing from one identity to the other, she adopts the values, politics, lifestyles and even sexual orientation of each new partner she finds. In this wise, funny and ultimately heartbreaking story, Lisa Alther explores the limited roles offered to women in this period - from cheerleader to motorcycle moll, bulldyke to madonna - each embodying important truths about the aspirations of the culture that created them. Honest, wise, funny and tragic by turns this is a remarkable novel in a class of its own.

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Tags: author: lisa alther, gay classics, literary heritage, persistent voices
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