Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For

Alison Bechdel
Firebrand Books ($10.95)

by Pat Carlin

Everybody's favorite dykes are back, and better than ever. For years now the savvy cartoonist Alison Bechdel has been chronicling the lives of this lesbian community as they make their way through a world of stress, work, death, and taxes—in short, the world everybody has to deal with. And she somehow manages this complex cast of characters in strip-sized segments that appear weekly in alternative newspapers across the country. But as carefully crafted as each "episode" is, they read even better in the collections, of which Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For is the most recent.

The main story in this book is centered around the bugbear of home-ownership. Eternal housemates Lois, Sparrow, and Ginger have decided to buy the house they live in when their landlord puts it up for sale, and invite Sparrow's new boyfriend (I told you these lesbians were complex) to live with them. Meanwhile, Clarice, Toni, and their legally adopted son Raffi are also buying their first home. Jezanna, the owner of Madwimmen Bookstore, is bringing her widowed father to live with her, and the always politically outraged Mo is about to shack up with her new fling, women's studies professor Sydney. As the characters debate and fret over their various moves, Bechdel manages to integrate a real sense of the stress and politics of home-buying and moving. The final story in the book is a thirty-five-page short story called "Demographic Rift," which follows all the characters on moving day, which they manage to get through without killing each other (but barely).

As if all this weren't enough, there are plenty of subplots to keep things interesting. The fiercely independent Madwimmen Books has to fight for survival when the corporate Bounder's Book-N-Muzak moves in down the block, a situation certainly derived from real life. Marital stress versus new love provides plenty of contrast. And the presence of Stuart really throws a wrench in everybody's sexual politics. Bechdel is a gifted writer, able to poke fun at PC lesbian liberalism even as she stays true to these same values on a personal level. And she is surely a gifted artist, employing a simple, clean style that tells the story plainly while constantly invoking humor (one newspaper headline reads "Steinem says groping by boss okay if he's a democrat"). If you're already a fan of Bechdel's work, Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For shows her at her best; if you're not, this book should convince you to become one.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 1999 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1999