LGBT fiction has come a long way in the last few decades. From works being banned (E.M. Forester’s Maurice) to bringing the events of the LGBT community to a mainstream audience (looking at you, Faggots by Larry Kramer), fiction dealing with homosexual or queer issues has always been a controversial sub-genre. And while there have been many controversial and ground-breaking works published in recent years, today we celebrate those works that deal with LGBT matters while also being exceptional examples of literature.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin Published in 1956, Giovanni’s Room is often classified as a gay novel though its two primary characters identify as bisexual. Baldwin portrays this lifestyle as both a dangerous and uncomfortable way of living. Both the protagonist, David, and the titular Giovanni struggle to come to terms with what their attraction is doing to them physically, emotionally, and socially. Baldwin juxtaposes their trepidation with the brash and flamboyant Jacques, who sets in motion much of the novel’s action. What stands out most though is not the ill-fated love story or third act murder, but Baldwin’s ability to make the desperation, anger, and loneliness of a waning love so palpable and real that it will both turn your stomach and break your heart.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier It’s surprising that no one has drawn parallels between Rebecca and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl – murder-mystery; conniving women; dopey husbands; relatively surprising plot twists. Similarities to more modern works aside (Rebecca was first published in 1938), du Maurier’s novel is chiefly remembered for it’s opening line (“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”) and the cold, churlish, and brilliantly constructed housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. While the plot mostly deals with the unnamed narrator trying to uncover the truth behind Rebecca’s untimely (and suspicious) death, Mrs. Danvers, in her loyalty to the late Rebecca, greatly inhibits that process. That loyalty though borders on an obsession so strong that it could be considered love/lust. It’s this undying devotion, and one particularly creepy scene involving Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca’s unmentionables, that has led some to believe that the two could have been lovers; Rebecca did have numerous affairs, after all. In the end, however, Mrs. Danvers’ obsession will play a part in both her downfall and that of Manderley.
As Meat Loves Salt by Melissa McCann Set in Cromwellian England, McCann’s sprawling work has all the makings of an epic novel: familial drama, civil war, mistaken identities (or are they?), and all types of romance. At the core of the novel, though, is the relationship between Jacob and Ferris, which is one of the most truthful, heart-rending depictions of a gay romance, regardless of the century in which it is set. Clocking in at almost 600 pages, As Meat Loves Salt is a brilliant analysis of just how a love (of any type) can tear you apart.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel You may be familiar with the Bechdel Test, which asks whether any given movie has two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Aside from developing that bit of gender equality gold, Bechdel is also known for her beautiful graphic novel Fun Home, detailing her complicated relationship with her (suspected) gay father. Drawn and narrated with a moving simplicity, Bechdel’s work focuses on her coming to terms with her own homosexuality while trying to reconcile her thoughts and emotions over both her father’s cold demeanor towards her, his hidden homosexual life, and his suicide not long after she came out to him. Recently turned into a Tony Award-winning musical, Fun Home is an emotional testament to children struggling to come to terms with the actions of their parents.
Here are a few more wonderful books in this vein. Check them out, too!