A review of Don’t Go There, by Kate Genet

Author Kelli Jae Baeli has written (on goodreads) such a fine review of Don’t Go There that I’m going to forgo my usual detailed (too wordy?) analysis and suggest you read what Jae’s written. Instead, I’ll address a few points I feel are important.

First, let’s get the whole “I don’t care for romance novels” disclaimer out of the way. I usually enjoy romance as a side element in other genres such as speculative fiction, urban fantasy, mystery or thriller, but not as the central focus; writers like Gerri Hill, Kim Baldwin and Andi Marquette come to mind. Radclyffe, too, I s’pose. Baxter Clare. From Genet’s standpoint, I understand the decision to turn to writing romance. A writer wants her work to be read, after all. Well, bought and read, which is as it should be. And, obviously, there’s a much greater market for romance with lesbian characters – pleeease don’t say “lesfic”, cos I tend to shoot first and ask questions later – than some other genres. The considerably higher number of online reviews for this as compared to the author’s other novels bears this out

The selfish part of me was sorry to see Kate turn to other forms of fiction than the ones I’ve previously enjoyed. Then, it hit me: it isn’t the genre that makes her writing so special, it’s the great characters and her narrative style that I love. As I once wrote about another writer, Andi Marquette, I think, Kate Genet could write in any damn genre she pleased and it would be just as good. So, ignoring the “don’t like romance novels” thing, I read Don’t Go There and I’m very, very glad I did.

The two principals are as good as any characters Genet has ever written about. Scarcity is immediately engaging, but, despite some comments by others that Teresa is not very likable early on in the story, I sensed an underlying complexity and vulnerability about her that also quickly captured my interest (and heart). One of my major objections to romance qua romance is the static nature of the characters, with the romance itself being the story’s sole raison d’etre. Here, the emphasis is on the characters, and each exhibits considerable growth, changes which wouldn’t have been possible had Scarcity and Teresa not come into each others’ lives.

The other obvious pleasure in reading any book by Kate Genet is her extremely readable, fluid narrative style. Elsewhere, I’ve referred to that style as spare. If that sounds like criticism, it’s anything but. What I mean by spare is that there’s nothing extraneous in her writing. Every word is there because it needs to be there. That doesn’t mean the writing is arid. though; there’s plenty of vivid description of setting, of character, of action and emotion. There’s just no fluff, no filler. Kate knows how to tell a story and finds just the right words to do it effectively.

Some readers have reacted negatively to Scarcity’s relative youth, one even calling the romance “gross.” I didn’t see it that way, at all. Sure, Scarcity’s only seventeen, but the events of her life, her parents’ deaths and the verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her brother, have forced upon her a maturity beyond her years. She seems very self-aware, aware of who she is and of what she wants from life. Also, her ability to sense Teresa’s inner pain and recognize that she has the potential to help Teresa heal suggests emotional development beyond that of the older woman. Yeah, Scarcity acts like a kid, at times, but, then, in real life, so do people two or three times as old.

Certainly, this is a coming-of-age story for Scarcity. In a sense, though, it’s about self-discovery for Teresa, too. Or, rather, about her allowingthe blossoming  of the part of herself she’s been denying. By embracing who she is rather than denying it, Scarcity seems more of a well-adjusted adult than Teresa. Her lack of experience sexually doesn’t keep her from being mature in other ways. Lots of young people are wise beyond their years while many adults, chronologically speaking, have, as Giles said to Wesley in the Buffy epi ”The Prom,” “the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone.”

Okay, so, at the outset, I said I’d try to curb my characteristic verbosity. Ya see how well that turned out, right? It’s just that when I feel strongly about something, as I do about Genet’s writing, I have a hard time stopping the word flow. I want to say everything I can to make you, the reader of my comments, want to read something I found enjoyable and edifying. In short, Don’t Go There is a terrific, well-told. perfectly paced story with great characters, fine writing and a slowly blooming romance that’s realistic rather than starry-eyed. Oh, and with a dog anyone would love.