A genuinely delightful book - I read it in a single sitting on evening where I'd already put aside three or four other novels as not quite right. The 1990s lesbian Portland milieu is beautifully observed and rendered - the writing is exquisite throughout without ever feeling fussy or overwrought; anybody who likes to read novels about characters we care deeply about will love this book. My only regret was that as I read the novel on my Kindle, I didn't get a copy with that gorgeous cat on the cover!
I was pulled right in to Andrea Morales's Lesbian Mafia life in Portland, Oregon in the 1990's. Johnson artfully uses the first person to describe Andrea's point of view after "escaping" from Nebraska. So many passages are captivating and funny and surprising. For example:
"Meena had intel that the coffee girl was straight--one of those girls who affects android queer chic and looks heartbreakingly good in it but actually only dates men. We resented this kind of girl."
Andrea's life was so different from mine I wanted to read the novel straight through--except for one big thing: One of the biggest surprises of the novel is disclosed right in the book summary on Amazon. Usually, a book summary doesn't give away more than what's in about the first 20% of the book. Not so with Stray City. The big surprise doesn't happen until almost 50% of the way through the novel. It was horrible reading the first half of the novel knowing what was going to happen to Andrea. Goodbye tension. I have no idea why the publishers decided to give that part of the novel away.
Secondly, after the big secret that was spoiled by the summary, there is a huge jolt in the writing. The time period jumps forward nearly 11 years. There is no warning and it's not a graceful entrance into this time capsule. As a reader, we're flung into the future with no explanation of what happened in the meantime. It didn't work for me.
I went ahead and gave the book 4 stars because the writing was so good, and Andrea was so interesting. In fact, all of the characters were interesting. Johnson has character development nailed. If you want to read a book about the lesbian underworld in the '90's, where the idea of marriage has not caught on, where a Lesbian Mafia exists, where you want to be in a 90's lesbian's head and know what they think about men and women and how they fit in society, you'll like this book. I did.
Grabs you by the shirt and pulls you headlong into a lively, marginalized community of women in Portland in the 1970's. This is a nostalgic love letter to that city in its gritty period - and also to the mysterious loves that a young woman can have - different, yet in the same body. There's lots of gentle mockery of the ironically bigoted "Lesbian Mafia,", and the constant migrations between and among young women finding and stabilizing their identities. And there's a special nativity portrait - I won't spoil it for you. The pace is brisk - you need to keep up! Lovely story - lovely perspectives, too. Worth more than a single read!
Some serious angst against bi people in this book (see photos). Bi folks already experience so much misunderstanding and hypersexualization in hetero spaces, it’s a shame to see them represented this way in literature geared towards LGBT+ readership. Up until page 300 (about where I put the book down), the main character’s potential bisexuality is not examined in any meaningful or enlightening way. Let’s be real, the main character repeatedly (and consensually) had sex with a man. I would have liked to see her grapple more with the idea that she might be bisexual. If it turns out that she was just with him for validation in a rough patch, and is in fact a lesbian, totally fine. But let’s not disparage other members of the LGBT+ community on our way to self discovery.
I fell so hard for this book. Beautiful writing, heartfelt storytelling, almost painfully-precise scene-painting of 90s Portland. I tore through it in two sleep-deprived days and didn't want it to end.
This is one of those books that I couldn't put down, yet didn't want to finish. If I could give it 4.7 stars, I would only because it dragged a little in part three, it could have used a little editing there, but I'm still in love with this book.
As a straight guy with several gay/queer women in our extended family, Ms Johnson’s beautifully written coming of age story about the nature of relationships and friends expanded my consciousness of stereo types and prejudice of anything “other.”
I really was wanting to love this book. In fact, I thought I would during the first part of it. Spoiler Alert—however, after Andy had the baby, all the 90’s Portland grunge charm was gone (which is what I was wanting to reconnect with in this book). Andy and Ryan living together just seemed too convenient and not realistic regarding how a lesbian would just accept a heterosexual man into her life as a replacement