Lucy Faulkner sent me a message on Twitter asking me to review her slim novella about a lesbian army captain and her raw recruits. I don’t know why she chose me. Perhaps she had seen my military story Captain Sun. Or perhaps she was aware of my forthcoming lesbian anthology Lure of the Feminine. In any case, the theme caught my fancy and I decided to dive in immediately.
And immediately I was aware of an intriguing tension. The author has a well-educated voice and in a preface, which is in itself quite rare in books of this kind, she writes:
“As author of this book, I am, in effect, its main character.”
It’s autobiography, we are told. And then we are told it’s not.
“It’s a sincere interaction between me as fantasist and you as reader.”
Autobiography, then, but as fantasy. This slightly muddled thinking unfortunately continues throughout the story. That word sincere is puzzling. Are other fictions and fantasies insincere? The author appears to be setting herself apart as a writer of ‘good lesbian stories’ which, she adds on her blog, are ‘few and far between.’
Perhaps good lesbian stories are relatively rare. I don’t know. I’ve read quite a lot of them. And I’d venture to say that Lucy Faulkner should follow my example and read quite a lot of them too, preferably by women who actually are lesbians and can truly write from experience. Her writing would be far better for it.
The narrative structure of Raw Recruits is actually quite complex. There are flash backs, flash forwards and multiple points of view. In this respect it’s almost as ambitious as Nostromo or As I Lay Dying, two of the towering masterpieces of twentieth century literature. But I would not advise a raw recruit in the art of fiction to aim so high on her first literary foray.
Here is a typical paragraph:
“Meanwhile Private Lomax who had spent the whole secondary school getting off on the cat-fights she had had in school turned the corner of her own climax when her was pulled and she felt the warm spongy sensation of the orgasm seeping through the Captain’s panties.”
It’s a whole paragraph and I have typed it accurately. How many times did you read it before you understood what it meant? After the second or third reading you have probably read it more times than the author. Can you guess the missing word? What effect do these sort of mental gymnastics have on your sexual response? In my case the warm spongy sensation completely fails to materialise.
My philosophy of fiction is very simple. The writer should do all the work and the reader should have all the fun. In the case of Raw Recruits, I think the author is having more fun than the reader, which isn’t fair.
It’s a shame because the book is bursting with good ideas. It has the potential to be a really rollicking read. There is a lot of sex in it and the sexual positions, if you can figure them out, appear to be very imaginative. I’m afraid my imagination faltered frequently and the technical descriptions of the action didn’t quite work for me. But I would encourage you to check out this book for yourself. If you’re a writer, you can learn a lot from it. There is good material here even though the execution could be improved. I wonder how much more effort it would be to turn it from something rough and ready into something top-notch.
But perhaps that’s a question only the author, who appears to be quite busy with her day job, can answer.