THE PLOT: ‘Rubyfruit Jungle’ by Rita Mae Brown is a coming-of-age novel set in the 50’s and 60’s. Molly Bolt doesn’t have a lot going for her; she’s poor, she’s from the South and she’s a bastard, but Molly’s proud of who she is. From a young age, Molly knows she’s smart, she doesn’t want to get married and she likes girls. She escapes her meagre life in Florida with her adoptive parents and heads to New York to find a community who will accept her.
RATING: One of the first books with an unapologetically lesbian main character, this novel has a firm place in the literary canon. I initially struggled with the lack of character arc and plot because Molly doesn’t change – the book catalogues a series of events that happen to her but don’t affect her deep inside. However, this book grew on me as I realised that Molly’s inability to compromise means the world must adjust to her sexuality. That’s why this book is so important – it’s the true definition of pride in oneself. I checked Goodreads and this is a divisive, love/hate book. While I agree that there are issues about consent and depictions of butch lesbians, I feel like I understood the spirit of this book. Plus, the ending is so beautiful, it made me cry and I bumped my rating up to 3.5 stars.
GOOD BITS: A tale rooted in the American South, the voice of the main character, depictions of poverty, and the relationship between Molly and her adoptive mother carried this book for me. Molly felt like a real person with real hardships, and the complexities of her adoptive mother’s attitudes towards Molly’s sexuality and birth parents added so much nuance. In terms of the writing, the voice of the main character is stand out as it’s so immediate. Even when I was struggling with this book, the voice – written with Southern inflection and vernacular – pulled me through. Additionally, the ending was spectacular. I felt like I was watching it like a film.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Firstly, many of the scenes were extremely dialogue-heavy which was hard to trudge through. The dialogue also felt like sermonising rather than real speech because of the frequent moral tomes about acceptance that may feel a bit too woke/obvious for modern readers. Secondly, in some ways it felt like reading memoir because a lot of scenes happened but they didn’t feel connected to a central plot in the same way as most modern novels. The pattern is that Molly has a series of friendships and sexual relationships with women who belittle her lesbianism, then Molly makes a speech about being accepted for who she is and doesn’t take away anything other than the realisation that people are prejudiced.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Bastard Out of Carolina’ by Dorothy Allison, ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward and ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s a moving tale about a poor, Southern girl finding her own place in the world and the perfect book to read for #PrideMonth.