There are three indisputable facts about lesbian life: lesbians like sex, boozing and processing. Bridget Bufford's new novel Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey combines all three.
By: Charlotte Cooper
The plot goes like this: Terry is a 26 year-old lesbian who's embarked upon her first year of Alcoholics Anonymous. She's there because it's time to face the fact that she's an abusive drunk. However, things don't go too smoothly because Terry refuses to accept the Twelve-Step programme's tenets and, predictably, she falls off the wagon. After a particularly nasty bender she accepts that things have got to change, and from this point on Minus One deals with her ultimate triumph over the demon drink, and a healing process that involves renewing a spoiled relationship.
Alcoholism is a prominent part of lesbian culture; we meet in bars, our community events are sponsored by drinks companies, we booze in order to give ourselves courage to face the world. But drinking is also a staple of lesbian literary heritage too, you have only to remember the gin-soaked butches of 1960s lesbian pulp fiction to know that. This is what makes Bufford's book so interesting: it marks the beginning of the end of our literary love affair with drink. Alcoholism in Lesbian Land is no longer excused, at least it isn't in the US, and I'm wondering whether Minus One is going to be the first in a long line of new books about the devastating effects of alcohol abuse on lesbians.
But back to the book. Whilst Minus One would certainly appeal to anyone who is going through the Twelve-Step process, it's done nothing to dissuade this reviewer from her suspicion that AA is creepily cult-like. I'm disturbed by the suggestion that to turn away from or rebel against the mighty Twelve Steps is to invoke certain disaster. I accept that AA helps a lot of people beat alcohol addiction but surely it's healthy to question its authority too!
Similarly, the focus on healing and processing, whilst very lesbian, is also very American. British readers might find themselves rolling their eyes at some of the pop-psychological excesses.
But ultimately, whilst Minus One is an interesting book, with a competently-written story, it suffers from the problem of all fiction that's inspired by doctrine. There's a certain stiltedness to writing that is trying its hardest to persuade the reader to accept its belief system. It tries to control the reader, and it makes you feel as though you were being marketed to in some way. Fiction, all fiction, works better when you are left to make up your own mind about things.
Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey by Bridget Bufford
Published by: Harrington Park Press
ISBN: 1560234687 Price: £9.99