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Book Review: Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante

Monica Nolans lesbian romp recalls pulp mysteries of yesteryear

In Monica Nolan’s neo-pulp novel, debutante Maxie Mainwaring hated when Mumsy made her go to those society-ladies luncheons. Those events were stuffy and begged for excitement, so Maxie obliged by making out with Elaine Ellman in the bathroom at the Bay City Women’s Club.

Big mistake: Mumsy was so scandalized that she made good on a perennial threat and cut Maxie’s allowance off.  It was 1964 – what kind of a job could a deb do?

Quickly, Maxie decided that it was time to move in with her girlfriend, Pamela. Pam had been hinting about that for awhile, even though she often complained about Maxie’s lack of stick-to-it-iveness and her wandering eye. Unfortunately, those subjects instantly came up, and the on-again-off-again girls were off for good.

On her way back home to the Magdalena Arms, Maxie stopped at Francine’s Bar to nurse her wounds and meet her friends for a drink. Lovely Lois, delightful Dolly, Janet the lawyer, and practical Phyllis all promised to help Maxie find a job. Career Counselor Doris Watkins even wanted to do a job assessment study with her.

And so Maxie tried employment at a magazine, but learned that there was no pay. She had a brief stint as a Recreational Aide before getting fired for snooping. She worked for a magazine publisher who loved her snooping but hated her tardiness.

But Maxie was tardy for good reason: she’d met a beautiful butch, Lon, who seemed to be involved in organized crime. Then Maxie learned that her mother was also mixed up in the mob. Could that be why Francine’s was raided by the police?  Was Lon’s life in danger?  Was somebody following Maxie, too?

How do I describe thee, “Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante”?  Let me count the ways: it’s rompish, first of all. Humorous, but not hilarious. Contrived, but not off-puttingly so. And silly – very definitely silly, but not bad.

I actually liked this book for its frivolity. I’m normally not a big fan of an over-filled cast of characters, yet I didn’t mind it in this novel. What started out as fun, though, but didn’t stay that way, as Nolan’s weirdly excessive use of identifiers instead of monikers. Repeatedly referring to someone by job description or former job description rather than by name became tiresome and often quite confusing.

Still, this fluffy whodunit, this marshmallow mystery, is entertaining enough if you can ignore that abrasion. It’s surely something that’s perfectly made for summertime reading. And if that’s what you want, then “Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante” is what you should have.

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