Painted Moon by Karin KallmakerPainted Moon by Karin Kallmaker is about two women struggling to find a way to accept the love that they both so desperately want and feel for one another.

Jackie Frakes is on her way to visit her aunt as a familial obligation. It’s thanks giving weekend but the roads are blanketed with snow and she finds herself stranded in a snowstorm on the lonely mountain road.

As Jackie is trying to make her way along the snow covered road a brusque stranger with a dog picks her up and takes her back to her own house. There is no way they can travel much further in the terrible storm and so Jackie finds herself stranded with Leah.

Leah is not very accommodating at first but Jackie manages to warm her icy heart enough to have a memorable stay. In the process she discovers that the woman she is with is a renowned artist and now recluse after her wife’s tragic death.

There is a definite attraction between the women but before they can explore it Jackie’s aunt arrives to rescue her.

Jackie is left reeling. Her body has never responded with such force as it does to Leah and she cannot help but realise that this is what she has been missing all her life. With that realisation it all clicks into place, her unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend and her disinterest in sex. But Leah seems like an unattainable goal. She is older, she lives far away and she hasn’t been in contact with Jackie since that fateful weekend. Surely that means that she is not interested in more?

In the meantime Jackie needs to figure out what being a lesbian means to her and we get to see some of that journey.

For Leah the act of losing her wife has been so life changing that even a few years later she is still struggling to come to terms with it. And when she finds herself attracted to Jackie it opens the possibility that perhaps there is life left for her and maybe she can find her voice again in the art world.

Can the two women find their true selves and then their way back to one another despite the age gap, fierce emotions and large personal journeys that they must endure?

The Characters

Jackie Frakes and Leah Beck are meant to be together but some issues exist between them. Jackie is still early in her career as an architect and cannot afford to leave the city in which she resides and works.

Leah is dealing with grief and has lost her muse because of it. Their passionate affair, though, has woken something in her and during their weekend together she finds her muse in the form of Jackie and does a series called Painted Moon.

The Writing Style

This is a 25th anniversary edition of Painted Moon. Bear this in mind when you read it because there are definitely things that have dated in the book. At the time when it is set cellphones weren’t smart and so forth but more than that it was about the attitudes to being lesbian. Read the forward to the book, it is interesting and worth it.

I love the way Kallmaker creates analogies for making love that are as if a beautiful artwork is being painted. Her use of language, her pacing and her revelations all work perfectly to give you a happily dramatic romance that is exciting to read.

The Pros

Something unique to Kallmaker is her ability to write interesting points of view that tie into character passions and use that point of view to describe events in the book. In this book it was art and painting.

Here’s an example: “The land was flat and soaked with rain, with no crops to break the unending stretch of dark orange clay. Gray clouds stretched overhead into the dim, charcoal horizon, leaving Jackie feeling very small and wondering about the native peoples who had roamed under the vast sky. How easy it would be think this was the entire world.”

I absolutely love that she does this. It makes the book exciting to read and from a technical point of view it’s brilliant.

The Cons

There is a trope that was fairly common in lesfic for when it was written and that is the trope of the selfish boyfriend. The man who gets his way and the woman who always has to give. I suspect some readers would be sensitive to this.

My feelings on the matter is that there are guys like this and there are guys who aren’t like this. This one just happens to be like this. I don’t really mind it.

Also there is a bit of an iffy moment when it comes to consent when Leah and Jackie first get a little hot and heavy. Once again, it didn’t really bother me but it may bother folks who are particular about this subject.

The Conclusion

sheena's favouriteI loved the book. Kallmaker gets the angst, drama and longing right. Her writing is beautiful and I felt myself once again falling in love with her ability to turn writing into art.

Leah and Jackie get their happy ending but the journey there is oh so satisfying. Plus there is nothing about this story that is typical formula and I was never quite sure where I was going to be lead next. How wonderful.

Excerpt from Painted Moon by Karin Kallmaker

Well, this was the most awkward situation she’d ever been in, Jackie thought. Trapped in a winter cabin with a dour mountain woman about as sociable as her dog. “Turn the fire up.” As if Jackie would play with a wood.

Be nice, she told herself. This woman has saved you from freezing to death. She shuddered into the clothes and patted her hair, wondering if she should undo the braid so it could dry. No, it looked halfway decent as it was. She went back to the kitchen, thinking of the heat coming from the kitchen stove.

“I feel almost human. Thank you,” she said as she entered. Her rescuer looked up from poking inside the stove and immediately looked away. Jackie stealthily checked her fly…it was buttoned. It was as though Mountain Woman couldn’t stand the sight of her. “I’m really sorry to be imposing on you like this. Do you know how far it is to the Carson place?”

“About a mile and a half.”

“Oh. I thought maybe I could walk it.” She kept me from freezing, Jackie reminded herself. I might not have made it.

“Don’t be stupid.”

Pleased to meet you, too, Jackie thought. The least she could do is look at me. “I know that’s out of the question now. I got a late start. I should have been there hours ago. My boss kept me late. In San Francisco.” She realized she was babbling. A near-death experience wasn’t exactly calming.

“Phone’s on the wall. It might still work.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Okay, we’ll keep it to short sentences. Her relatives could come get her in the morning. She dug her waist pack out from under her wet clothes and fished out her aunt’s phone number. The connection crackled, then the call went through.

Her aunt, no doubt expecting the phone service to stop at any moment, launched into speech as soon as she heard Jackie’s voice. “I’ve been worried sick. The paper just didn’t do justice ta this storm. It’s a doozy. Your mother’d have my hide if something happened ta you. Where are you?”

“I’m at one of your neighbors. My car slipped off the road.” Her aunt gasped in alarm. “No, I’m okay. Nothing even bruised.” Except her rear end, but that had happened when she’d fallen down with the groceries. She turned to her rescuer who was dropping kindling and small logs into the belly of the large iron cook stove that dominated one end of the kitchen. “Where am I?”

“At the old McCormick place.”

She repeated the information to her aunt who gave a small gasp. “Oh, Jackie, maybe Hank can come ta get you…no, he’s shaking his head. But I hate ta think of you there.”

Jackie heard the emphasis on the last word. Had she fallen in with the local bootleg gin manufacturer? Or a modern day Lizzie Borden? Her aunt most definitely disapproved. “I’m fine, really. My hostess has been very considerate.”

“I’ll bet,” her aunt said. “You just watch out for yourself. Hank’ll be there soon as the weather breaks. Should be tamorra morning some—”

The line went dead.

Jackie tried calling back but there was no dial tone, so she gave up. “My uncle will pick me up when the weather breaks, Ms. McCormick.”

The woman actually smiled…slightly. “I’m Leah Beck. I own it now, but this cabin will always be the McCormick place.”

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