A fearless collection of stories that celebrate the humor, darkness, and depth of emotion of the queer and trans experience that’s not typically represented: liminal or uncertain identities, queer conception, and queer joy.Amazon
This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for
Rainbow, Rainbow: Stories by Lydia Conklin
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
This review is crossposted on the Fresno News Link monthly blog. Over there it can be found on the “Book Flow” option in the “More” tab.
First off, you have to know that this isn’t a novel or a nonfiction book. It is a collection of short stories. Short stories, by their very nature, are different from novels in a variety of ways. Yes, obviously, they are shorter. But more fundamentally, they focus more on a snippet of life. They are usually structured around an idea of epiphany or revelation. Often they leave you unsettled, wanting more, wondering what the heck is going to happen next. There isn’t a lot of room for character growth, so character growth is either not the point or left to the reader’s imagination as an “after-event” of the story. The narrative structure in a short story is more about feelings, visceral descriptions, and vignettes of meaning in a character’s life.
That all being said, you really have to be a fan of short stories as a genre or really in the mood for tiny snippets of bigger pictures. In short, you have to be okay with not knowing and being purposely deprived of closure.
Short story collections tend to be a mix of protagonists and situations that sometimes center around a theme. Such is the case of Rainbow, Rainbow by Lydia Conklin.
Her theme is broad “the lesser-known stories of the LGBTQIA experience” and she does a masterful job of telling these stories with gut-wrenching prose.
Conklin has decided to focus on lesser talked about aspects of the “rainbow family” while showing us characters that are heartbreakingly real and true to life. Not all the stories are sad, but there is a thread of sadness that permeates many of them. There are also some darkly comic moments and things that will make you cringe even as you nod in recognition.
There are very familiar stories of a lesbian couple discussing the potential of having a baby via a friend’s help and a 5th grader pushing back against the rigid character/gender roles assigned during a class project. There are also the questioning teens figuring out what sort of attention they want from their peers and how best to get it… and then the story of a transman preparing for top surgery by considering having an affair during the height of COVID.
For me, it was a mixed bag. I like short stories. I like being pulled in and then left to wonder. And Conklin’s writing is great. Her detail work and dialogue are realistic to the point of slightly uncomfortable. That’s all good.
But… there is also pedophilia, pet death, sexual assault, and graphic sexual content among minors. I understand that the point of this collection was to hold a mirror up to some of the less glamorous aspects of the LGBTQIA community, but I felt there could have been more uplifting moments included. Just because something is traumatic, doesn’t make it deep. Just because we have suffered, doesn’t mean we must dwell.
Now, I am not saying that uncomfortable things should be ignored or hidden from view. And this book is an excellent example of doing what it set out to do… to challenge us, to make us look askance at ourselves and others, and to remind us that we are all flawed complex people with diverse inner lives. For my money, it was just a bit too much of a sad read and I was hoping for more of an uplift.
I like to use the ASPECT method for a quick round-up.
A: Atmosphere (tone).
This book is dark. It is heavy. It is not for the faint of heart.
Conklin is a gifted writer with a mastery of dialogue and description. The beats of each story were easy to follow.
This is kind of moot in a short story collection although I always wonder how the editors and authors determine the order of the stories. Setting the first story, ”Laramie Time,” in Laramie, Wyoming (a place that will have an instant gut reaction for many in the LGBTQIA community), is a bold choice. I personally felt that later entries such as “Pioneer” and “Sunny Talks” were more interesting stories. I also felt that the final story “Boy Jump” was an amazing bit of writing that went beyond the caliber of the other stories in this collection.
I would say in this case, the collection was compelling. When you read a short story collection you know that the next story is likely going to be vastly different from what you are currently reading. This curiosity about what Conklin would do next kept me turning pages…. And I am glad I did.
There are so many that we don’t get super deep into any but a few will definitely resonate with you… another benefit of a short story collection. Don’t like the characters in the first few stories… just wait, your favorite is just a page turn away. All the characters were highly believable and complex.
T: This… as in, Why THIS book? (AKA, Would I recommend it?)
Published in 2022, this book had been getting a bit of buzz and I decided to make it part of my summer reading. I am glad I did and even though I felt more sad than happy while reading it, I am glad I gave Conklin my time. I think stories like these have intrinsic value and ought to be read.
It is not for everyone though… It is, after all, a short story collection.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?