Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown

she remains a lone wolf, determined above all to remain independent of both patriarchy and matriarchy

Book Review by Diana ben-Aaron | 15 Jul 2006
Rubyfruit Jungle', the coming-of-age novel by the political activist and polymath writer Rita Mae Brown, is said to be the bestselling lesbian novel of all time. The book's narrator, Molly Bolt, seems to have been born secure and confident in the knowledge that she's OK and it's the society around her that is broken - a rare perception for any literary heroine. Adopted into a poor family in the pre-civil rights South, Molly observes that the life of a wife and mother doesn't look like very much fun, and anyway, she likes girls. She's out and proud if anyone should ask her directly, but almost nobody does, except for her cousin and best friend Leroy. Fortunately for Molly, she is bright and conventionally attractive enough to successfully play the American high school social order, even getting elected class president (while sleeping with a cheerleader and taking the piss out of teachers). She wins a scholarship to the state university, where she has an affair with her roommate. Their neighbours in the residence hall witch-hunt them out, and Molly is briefly locked in a mental ward, sent down, and cursed and disowned by her mother. She decides to hitchhike to New York, where "there are so many queers that one more wouldn't rock the boat." Through a series of affairs there, she finds that she rejects both the butch/femme division she sees in Greenwich Village bars, and the cultural patronage of uptown lesbians - any kind of scene-mentality conflicts with the directness of her style of desire. By the end of the book she has put herself through film school and is somewhat reconciled with her mother, but still a lone wolf and determined above all to remain independent of both patriarchy and matriarchy. Through her alter ego, Brown assails many hypocrisies in a logical and witty voice that inspires reader loyalty, through it can sometimes be cruel as well. Molly stands in the tradition of her namesake Moll Flanders, Huckleberry Finn and that hoariest of coming-of-age clichés, Holden Caulfield. It is little wonder that in the most progressive schools Rubyfruit Jungle is part of the canon. [Diana ben-Aaron]
Out now.