The Rebel Girl: Lesbian Nation’s Landscape

Against the Current, No. 87, July/August 2000

Catherine Sameh

The Struggle for Happiness:
Stories by Ruthann Robson
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) $22.95.

RUTHANN ROBSON IS a woman of many dimensions: a lawyer, scholar, and consistently wonderful lesbian literary writer of many genres. Best known for her most recent suspense novel, a/k/a, Robson has also mastered poetry, non-fiction and short stories. In her new book of short stories, The Struggle for Happiness, Robson’s characters reflect her own multidimensionality and deep knowledge of everything from law and nature to ballet and utopian philosophy.

In each story, Robson locates her characters within the landscape of the contemporary lesbian nation. A security guard, lawyer, animal rights activist, singer, teenager and Russian ballet teacher are a few of the many colorful and emotionally complex women Robson paints. Each is, in fact, engaged in her own struggle for happiness, juggling the demands of careers, lovers, friends and family.

In the opening story, “Black Squirrels,” a woman negotiates a debilitating illness and the loss of a lover against the backdrop of environmental devastation in her neighorhood. In “Women’s Music” a guitarist’s supposedly dead lover shows up at one of her concerts. And in “pas de deux” a young dance student blossoms into adulthood as a dance teacher but never stops looking for the older teacher who shaped both her career and her lesbian desire.

The final and longest story in the collection, “Close to Utopia,” links the themes of the previous stories — loss and change; women’s relationship to the environment; how identity is shaped by work, love and family — but departs from them stylistically. Robson experiments with language here, borrowing styles and ideas from the New French Feminists like Helene Cixous and Luce Irigary.

While building an intriguing story of three American women who steal a wolf from an animal shelter and deliver it to a group of French, Asian and Caribbean Canandian women who live and work on the Canadian tundra, releasing wolves back into the wild, Robson asks us to meditate on women’s relationship to language and our closeness to, and distance from, the wild. One character has spent thirty years conjugating the French verb etre, to be, yet still wrestles with her own sense of who and what she is.

Lik a/k/a, The Struggle for Happiness delivers masterful storytelling wrapped in lyrical, yet economical, language. Robson seems to get better and better with each book. Let’s just hope she doesn’t wait too long before offering us another excellent and challenging read.

ATC 87, July-August 2000