Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest
I love this book so much, I have all three covers shown above in my personal collection. The first copy I acquired was via a forum on AfterEllen.com. Someone was trying to interest people in free lesbian fiction and, surprisingly, there were no takers. Free + Lesbian + Books, arguably one of the most tantalizing equations ever constructed, and I was the only one to snatch them up. (I concede that sharing your home address with a stranger is not always the smartest idea.) This past week I learned that an audiobook version exists. It’s waiting for me to finish my current audio dalliance.
Curious Wine is love at first read. I try not to measure other romance novels against it because that wouldn’t be fair. It’s in a class all its own. The more I love a book, the more trouble I have articulating why it’s so wonderful. Every year I curl up with the two lovers, Diana Holland and Lane Christianson, and watch the slow snowfall of their love unfold.
I love Katherine V. Forrest’s use of language. She paints a vivid, textured world with her descriptions of the setting, choice of words, and rich, fluid dialogue. It’s beautiful and genuine.
The story takes place in the late 1970s and was originally published in 1983 by Naiad Press. Diana and Lane find themselves at a cabin in Lake Tahoe, as part of a small gathering of women, most of them either strangers to or acquaintances of the two protagonists. It’s a veritable winter wonderland, secluded from the outside world. The sprawl of glittering casinos hasn’t completely overtaken the cabin. Diana resigns herself to a weekend away at the insistence of her friend Vivian. Lane is similarly drawn away from her law practice to enjoy a weekend on the slopes.
The story is full of subtlety – a look, a touch, an observation made in the moment… Diana and Lane bond over “their poet”, Emily Dickinson, Peggy Lee’s Pretty Eyes, and shared humor. While Diana feels immediately drawn to and protective of Lane (whom the other women deride as aloof and snobby), Lane is hesitant to remove self-imposed emotional barriers. Diana’s past relationships with men, most recently her break with her long-term partner Jack, have never consisted of two equals. For her, she never gave any thought to having a romantic relationship with women. Lane, however, has been running from her desires for women; she doesn’t want risk loss and disappointment. The anticipated reactions from family and friends also play a role in their steps forward.
Towards the end, when it seems like Yes! They’ve made it!, we encounter the last bridge they must cross in order to build a lasting future together. When Lane asks Diana to wait a month with no contact whatsoever between them, the wait nearly does Diana in. We never hear the detailed agony on Lane’s half of the wait, though we get clued in on it after the pair reunites.
“It’s fast, Diana, so fast for us to know…We’ll have problems, Diana, being together.”
“Yes, I know. But we’ll be together. You asked me when we first made love how I knew how to touch you and I told you I just knew. I just know about this, too.” Diana quoted,
“The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door…”
“I love you,” Lane said.
Diana said, trying out the words, tasting them. “My dearest…” (very last page)
A trigger warning for the following scene: rape
There are more than a few charged scenes that are difficult to read. One evening at Harrah’s Casino, Diana, hurt and confused by her uncertain relationship with Lane, follows a former pro football player up to his hotel room. When she decides that there is nothing and no one who can replace Diana, she tries to leave. The man isn’t willing to take no for an answer. She escapes, but doesn’t call the police. It’s devastating and heart wrenching and terrible. After she runs a skin-scalding bath, she drives back to the cabin and back into Lane’s warm embrace.
On the second night, the women congregated at the cabin play a series of “encounter” games. The women are encouraged to trust each other with their intimate selves as the games progress. As the night wears on, the women become increasingly drunk and stoned. Liz Taylor, the host, is especially mean-spirited. Some of the women break under the toxic environment, but by morning, the mood has shifted again. Everyone is too burdened with their own baggage to notice what is developing between Diana and Lane.
I’ll close with the Emily Dickinson excerpt that precedes the first chapter.