skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
[personal profile] skygiants
I really wanted to like Ellen Klages' novella Passing Strange. All of its component elements should and indeed do appeal to me: San Francisco in 1940! The Golden Gate International Exhibition! Gay clubs! Communities of women! A lesbian romance between a pulp magazine cover artist and a drag cabaret singer!

All perfectly solid, a good basket of ingredients, some of which do work for me; the atmosphere is great, the historic San Francisco details and in-depth painting nerdery are delightful, the main romance is cute, but the characters did not quite land for me and neither did the magic.

My biggest problem with the characters and the character dynamics is that a lot of the dialogue is highly expository. This is fine when it's relatively obscure information like 'how fish glue works as a fixative,' but slightly more frustrating when it was things that I felt like I knew already without even having met these people, and that therefore the characters, who have met previously and do know each other well, should not have to explain to each other, i.e.:

CHARACTER A: The risks of being a professor.
CHARACTER B: I wish. I'm still just a mathematics lecturer. Seems my Ph.D. is less significant that my ovaries.

It's not that I object to the characters discussing this as a relevant fact, just that since they're both women in 1940 who hang out together all the time, I'm not sure that it should be news.

My biggest problem with the magic is not really that it pops up sort of out of nowhere with minimal explanation or sense; I don't find that narratively satisfying, but I don't particularly mind it either. What I do mind is that fact that the book ends with our star-crossed lovers escaping from persecution via the sudden reveal that one heroine possesses a magic powder which will allow them to disappear into an imaginary world in a painting, with no release until the painting is destroyed, AT WHICH POINT THEY DIE. A fate which to me sounds sort of potentially horrifying? Or at the very least bittersweet!

But the text does not think this, the text thinks this is a nifty happy-ever-after, and so do all their friends, so OK! OK. That's fine, I guess, all I'm saying is that if a single character had expressed a single qualm about this I would have instantly related to them more than anyone else in this book.
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