The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories by Alisa Surkis and Monica Nolan

I picked up a copy of The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories by Alisa Surkis and Monica Nolan based on the merits of Nolan alone. I was introduced to her Lesbian Career Girl series by a friend on Goodreads, and each one was wonderful (though I’m partial to Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlandy myself). I wasn’t sure in what way Nolan and Surkis collaborated, but some stories were reminiscent of the Lesbian Career Girl books while others were totally different, so I have my suspicions.

On several occasions I have explained that this collection of short stories is not about lesbian horses, but lesbians who love horses. The amount of lesbian-to-horse interaction varies by story, and I noticed the stories in which horses were not as prominent were the ones I didn’t enjoy as much. The stories really shine when their setting is a ranch, a race track, or horse stables.

In “The Stableboy,” a naive teen asks the boy who tends the stable where her horse is boarded to the dance — only to be surprised by what he’s hiding. “Lady Snow” is a story in which the reigning queen of horse racing sabotages her opponents with drugs and sex. “Ride to Freedom” takes a dissatisfied housewife away from her husband to a camp where women nurture and support each other in a feminist utopia.

Though set in different locations and decades, most stories have a 1950s vibe, explaining why men the very few men in the whole book are domineering and sexist. Nolan and Surkis frequently re-imagine spaces in which men typically exist, but are written out in The Big Book. Personally, I find that fascinating to read and always feel different during my reading experience. Thoughts of sexual assault and leering eyes leave my head while I’m reading because the people who do those things aren’t on the page.

The cover is overly sexual in the way that pulp novels are, but with almost no men in the stories, that concept of “the male gaze” is now for lesbians.

Typically, the Lesbian Career Girls novels have a mystery at the heart of the plot. Without something clearly driving each story in The Big Book, I lost interest more often than not. The first two stories especially did not impress me, and I was worried. And then, I read a paragraph that is classic Monica Nolan. It’s totally innocent, but also *ahem* not:

Gingerly, Pauline offered Emma [the horse] the sugar cube, her hand held out flat, palm up, as Flora had shown her. She felt Emma’s gentle, hairy lips moving over her hand, and she closed her eyes, to better savor the indescribable sensation.

Such passages are the kind that make squeal over how an author is getting away with something, but also, I find it funny in its brazen wording. Though there are fun kernels throughout, all the innuendos couldn’t keep me interested in the collection as a whole.

The stories are often silly and over the top. What worked in the Lesbian Career Girl novels fell flat in these short stories — and it may be the form that stifled the whole concept. In many cases, the stories were wrapped up quickly, making them read like incomplete ideas for stories.

Only one moment sent off warning bells in my head. When the reigning queen in “Lady Snow” confronts the rider she is trying to sabotage, the rider’s friend yells:

She doesn’t need you — you, your blow, or your bag of bisexual tricks!

Woof. In case you didn’t know, bisexual people are often ostracized by the rest of the lesbian and gay community. I know Wendy @ What the Log writes about this on her blog and Twitter. Nolan and Surkis are both lesbians, and the character who says “bag of bisexual tricks” is also a lesbian. I’m forced to wonder if the authors see bisexual men and women as deceitful, or if they were trying to make a character whom readers are supposed to like look ignorant. I wasn’t sure, but it bothered me.

The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories falls flat, but if you enjoy fun, rompy, pulpy books, then I highly recommend the Lesbian Career Girl novels. Be sure to read them in order.

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22 comments

  1. Ahoy there matey! I don’t know who told me about the Lesbian Career Girl novels but they have been waiting patiently on me list ever since. I am partial to horse stories so I was going to start here. Now I won’t. I do wish that the Career Girl novels were also on ebooks though!
    x The Captain

  2. I intend one day to read the Lesbian Career Girls. It will involve me getting an Am**** account which I have been resisting. I love your honest reviews (and don’t like short stories anyway) so can safely skip Lesbian Horses. Your comment, “Thoughts of sexual assault and leering eyes leave my head while I’m reading because the people who do those things aren’t on the page.” is illuminating. Even as an old man I find it difficult to look at a woman asexually, and need to be reminded about how women feel about that.

    • I have never felt more comfortable in my life than when I was teaching on an all-women’s campus. I was much less likely to look behind me as I walked if I heard something. Male professors do stand out badly, though, and some did not fit into the campus as well as they should have. I distinctly remember a student passed out, so an ambulance was called. One male professor said it was pointless to call an ambulance, that the school should have forced her to take a pregnancy test–that was all. I was so appalled.

      I think one thing to practice with yourself (I have been doing it for years and still do) is try not to think anything positively or negatively about a person’s body. Try really hard. Because it IS hard. That will change how people feel about you, too.

  3. Like many of your commenters, I absolutely adore the title of this book, and that cover! My my, this may be one book my husband will actually read (he doesn’t read books, I’m not 100% sure he can read, other than the fact he’s a successful engineer) but that’s fine, I read enough books for us both.

    Too bad this one feel a bit flat, but good on ya for giving it a try regardless.

  4. That’s so interesting about the “bisexual tricks” observation. Honestly I had no idea bisexuals were looked down upon, but I guess I can understand how that could be—each “side” perhaps seeing them as unwilling to commit… Informative and colorful review. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Lorilin! Yes, the way people view bisexual seems similar (to me) to the way people view biracial individuals. They’re too ________ for either side. Currently, I’m reading a short memoir called The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. It’s set just after the Depression when a minister-in-training and his wife decide to adopt a baby and then it spirals out of control as they find all these “unadoptable” children who are labeled as such typically because they are biracial and will never belong with “the dominant race.” Since you’re a mom, you might enjoy it! Very funny and easy to read.

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