Lambda Book Report
     June • July 2005

Coming Out on Top

Reviewed by Therese Szymanski

Minus One:
A Twelve-Step Journey

By Bridget Bufford
Alice Street Editions
ISBN 1-56023-468-7

I have to admit, I felt a hint of trepidation when I sat down to begin Bridget Bufford’s
Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey, since, because I’m a lesbian, I’ve dated a few people in recovery, and known even more. Because so much can be focused on the process, taking it bit by bit, the actual getting somewhere can be overlooked. While “one day at a time” might work for a program, it might not so well for a story.

I was absolutely, utterly and completely wrong.

This book is about the journey—about overcoming all the hurdles to cross the finish line, even though there’s always another race after.

This is the tale of Terry, an alcoholic soccer-playing lesbian who reaches the bottom and loses almost everything important to her. When she thinks she’s destroyed the most important thing with her own two fists, and realizes she has to change in order to have anything good in her life, she makes a second important coming out in her life: as an alcoholic.

Overall, it’s a very human journey; a tale as endless as time. Only this time it’s about an alcoholic lesbian who uses twelve steps to a better tomorrow.

Early on, I was more than occasionally annoyed with Terry, since she seemed to often put even more barriers in her path. Even though she wanted to be accepted by those in her AA group, she was angry and confrontational. She wouldn’t even abide by the rules Angela, who had given her a place to stay and gotten her a job, had told her were the grounds for her employment at a garden. She wouldn’t even follow the steps in order.

But through a series of events, Terry discovers just how frail some things can be. As events and Terry unravel, I became aware of Bufford’s subtle behind-the-scenes storytelling talent—because that was when I realized that regardless of my feelings about some of Terry’s actions, I felt angry for her when she was wrongly misjudged, and I was thoroughly empathizing with her when she befell further happenstance.

First-time author Bufford has a wonderful talent for zeroing in
on those telling instances that best show what she is trying to
communicate. For instance, when Terry’s brother is making her
two-month celebratory dinner, he’s doing it because he loves to
cook, and not because he’s really happy for her, since he doesn’t
really believe she’s an alcoholic. (And still through dialogue he
conveys an important thing—good stuff takes patience.)

Bufford also has a flair for the descriptive, finding the little
details that make the story more real—so much so, you might
occasionally wonder just how much of it comes from Bufford’s
own life. For instance, when Terry is on the fourth step (“Made a
searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,”) she details
in a journal all the many wrongs she’s committed throughout her
life. Bufford brings to light a handful of these things, selecting
those that most show the points she’s making—about both the
greatness of the wrongs, as well as the power of the minute.

But Bufford never turns away from the overriding story she’s
telling. She always keeps her eye on the plot. For example, some
characters keep popping up throughout the book, each with their
own tales, and all these interweaving stories mirror and
complement each other, to better the reader’s understanding of
the entire complex tapestry Bufford has created. Granted, all the
storylines aren’t neatly packaged and finished by the end, but
recovery and life are ongoing processes.

And throughout all this, I only rarely got annoyed by the
“processing” (even though I’m happy to admit I have a much
greater understanding of the twelve steps than before).

Overall, Minus One is a well-written story that is enjoyable to
read. It’s hard to believe it is only Bufford’s first full-length foray
into the world of fiction. You don’t have to be lesbian (or even
GLBT), or in recovery (or be an abuser), or even just be an
alcoholic or related to one to want to read this book. All you have
to be is human.

Therese Szymanski is the author of the Brett Higgins’ Mysteries/Motor City Thrillers, editor of a couple of anthologies, contributor to about a dozen anthologies, and an all-round maniac-about-town
.