I love chatting on Twitter with Ana from Immersed in Books, but there’s only so much in-depth book discussion that can happen in 140 characters. When we both wanted to read Living in Sin by Anastasia Vitsky, part of a new collection of lesbian romances about Damsels in Distress from Less Than Three Press, I suggested we team up and do a joint review. This was the result. One warning: here there be spoilers. Hope you enjoy!
In Living in Sin, Ciara and Audra have been living together for about nine months, but Ciara still had not come out to her family. Ciara is torn between telling her family they’re not just roommates or losing Audra. A visit from her ailing grandmother in a dream gives her insights into what she should do, but it’s still not easy to choose between the family you love and the family you chose.
Elisabeth: So, Ana, what did you think about Living in Sin?
Ana: I had really mixed feelings. I usually enjoy relationship/marriage in trouble books, but there wasn’t enough focus on the relationship for me. I felt the focus of the story was off, enough for me to think of it less as romance and more as Women’s fiction. It is almost wholly centered on Ciara, her feelings and fears about coming out to her family, rather than on her love for Audra.
Elisabeth: It definitely felt like we were dropped into the middle of a story instead of a romance with a beginning, middle and end. They’ve already been through the courtship phase and the ending doesn’t offer total resolution either.
Ana: I thought that Vitsky did a great job portraying the awful relationship despair you can end up in when you have a ongoing conflict without resolution. Their tension, the initial fight, were really well done.
What did you think of the Dream Grandma interlude?
Elisabeth: That was an unexpected element. I had the idea that Ciara’s family was probably Christian, though it never stated that directly in the text, I don’t think? But it seemed like probably not the sort of white, Mainline Protestantism that I’m most familiar with. There are lots of different permutations of Christianity around the world though. So I found the dream grandma bit fascinating. There was almost this ancestor-worship element, which if the case, would make Ciara’s dilemma about how much to tell her family about Audra especially difficult. So the idea that Dream Grandma didn’t seem opposed to their relationship felt powerful.
Ana: We have a very brief reference to churchgoing during the first visit with the family. Aunt Marge chastises Ciara for missing church and mentions the pastor Janice speaking about homosexual marriage in her latest sermon. I thought there was an interesting disconnect between dream grandma and Ciara’s ideas about her grandmother. Dream grandma does seem to be open to Ciara pursuing her heart, but she has been Ciara’s excuses. Maybe not that grandma would oppose but that it would be the straw to break her mother’s already over loaded back.
Your mention of white Christianity is interesting. I didn’t pick up or notice if Ciara or Audra were POC, but I do know that in PR I grew up with a greater acceptance that God or your family might speak to you through dreams. Dream Grandma was more problematic to me in that I wasn’t sure at point what her message really was.
Elisabeth: I see the ambiguity too. Though upon reflection, it seemed that maybe Dream Grandma was just saying that Ciara isn’t alone. That Dream Grandma had to make difficult choices for love too. Which also seems to jive with how the book ends–that she and Audra talk about going to see her family together.
Ana: I agree with that. I do think Ciara thought she was a special snowflake. She has this family she loves, that she doesn’t want to risk, and Audra should just deal with it. Dream Grandma saying, you aren’t the only one who has ever had to make hard choices, and that those choices are going to be different for every person was the kick in the pants she needed.
Elisabeth: Ciara’s special snowflake status was where the first person narration was most effective for me. I think however sympathetic we are to Ciara, it’s because we’re getting the whole of what she’s thinking. I think that with Audra’s perspective thrown into the mix, I would have had trouble siding with Ciara at all. But as it was, I felt bad for her. As much as I thought she should woman-up and tell her family, I also understood why she felt like she couldn’t.
Ana: I really missed Audra’s point of view. I responded quite negatively to Ciara initially, so I really wanted to see why Audra was sticking around for this. I think it was powerful to be Ciara’s head, and know her fears, but I would have a hard time staying with someone who would exclude me to the point Audra has been excluded.
What did you think about her relationship with her family? I felt that she wasn’t giving them enough credit. But at the same time, I understood her desire to avoid conflict.
Elisabeth: Gosh. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. That scene where the family relates the pastor’s sermon made it tough for me to be sure Ciara was making the wrong decision. But at the same time, they’re so close and seem to depend on one another so much that I hard a time believing they wouldn’t eventually come around. I guess though, in conflicts with my own family, I know that when you’re in the heat of the moment, you can’t always see that.
Ana: For me it was actually one of the later conversations which made me understand Ciara’s concerns. She mentions that her father would want to go after the man who turned her off boys, and since she is such a Daddy’s girl, I can see how she would want to avoid that at all costs. She doesn’t want to have to explain this to her dad. She sort of wants him to clue in on his own.
Elisabeth: And I didn’t even notice that dialogue at all. This is why reading with someone is fun. So, Ana, did anything else strike you about Living in Sin?
Ana: I think it had an interesting perspective. In the end I really appreciated that it wasn’t an “all or nothing” kind of message, and the ending was hopeful, but it really didn’t satisfy my romance expectations. It was bittersweet.
Elisabeth: It reminded me of some of the stories from last year’s RAINN anthologies that way. I would have really liked a more definitive ending too. It did seem to end on a positive note, but I wanted a bigger payoff in the form of true acknowledgment of their relationship from her family or a public kiss or something.
Ana: I agree with you, it did remind me particularly of Ruthie Knox’s story in the Summer Rain anthology, similar bittersweet tone. It really made me curious to read something else from Less than Three Press and see if this is typical of their Lesbian romantic fiction, or if the ambiguity was just in this story, because I do look for more.
Elisabeth: I grabbed a couple of lesbian romances from this publisher and have only read one other thus far, but that one has a much more traditional romantic arc. It’s a fairy tale and there’s a meet-cute, some action and a definitive happy ending.
Ana: I am curious to try one of their historicals. I think they are offering some set during WWII. I will be more willing to try it knowing that it might have the story trajectory I’m looking for. Elizabeth, thanks for inviting me to read this with you. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise and I enjoyed talking about it.
Elisabeth: Thanks for agreeing to join me! We talk about books on Twitter all the time, but it was nice to have an extended conversation instead of being confined to 140 characters. We should do this again some time. Next time you get to pick the book though.
Ana: Challenge accepted!
A lifelong genre reader, Ana grew up reading fantasy, sci-fi & mystery novels in Puerto Rico. Ana discovered comics in college beforefinally wandering into the Romance section a few years ago after bawling through yet another YA dystopian series. A recovering English and History double major, Ana is now a school librarian, mother of two geeky girls and a pastor’s wife in Rochester, NY. When she is not reading or writing reviews, she is knitting or planning her next trip. She writes about books at her blog: Immersed in Books http://winterfell.blogs.com/immersedreader/ and on Twitter as @anacoqui.