Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes
One of the earliest “lesbian novels,” Nightwood is actually just a perfect piece of prose. I loved its doll imagery, and the idea that these depressed and fucked up people who fell in love with Robin were basically going to bed with a lifeless doll. A heads-up, though: It was written in the early Thirties, and it’s brazenly racist, which I found distressing. Some say this was Barnes’s critique of Europe’s treatment of Jews and gays, I say, it’s still racist.
Dreamers, by Knut Hamsun
This book rocked my world. Like a snow globe that changes seasons, the town in Dreamers is magical and self-enclosed. Hamsun’s prose is light and his characters are whimsical, plus his subtle treatment of heavy themes like love, work, money, environment, and God is enviable.
Envy, by Yuri Olesha
A drunken intellectual is picked up off the street by a Food Industry Regulation Big Shot in Pre-Bolshevic Russia and given a sofa to sleep on. What ensues is Gogol meets Dostoevsky on mushrooms. I Loved it. And there’s a priceless scene with a sausage (mind out of the gutter, now).
Martin & John, by Dale Peck.
A novel-in-stories penned by a character named John, who’s coping with his abusive past and his partner’s death from AIDS, the novel features chameleonic characters named Martin and John, Bea and Henry, and Susan. The language is beautiful, and the arc is built in a cool way– the stories are about childhood, then adolescence, then adulthood– and the stories are grouped according to class/setting: Country, working class, upper middle class. I liked how Henry first occupies the father role, then the role of anonymous torturor, and how Bea, the mother character, dissappears altogether, and is somewhat replaced by Susan, who ends up being a mother, too. Peck plays on the idea of reader-fidelity: how loyal are we to character and story, and how willing are we to let go of them? For a novel about letting go of the thing we love, I find that really genius.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeannette Winterson
I can’t believe I’ve hesitated so long to read this. If Joyce were born a dyke to Pentecostal Evangelists, he might have written a novel like this.