The Swashbuckler by Lee Lynch is a classic lesfic story about Frenchy Tonneau, a butch lesbian living in New York City in the 1960s and 70s. At the beginning of the book, Frenchy is around 19 or 20, she lives at home with her mother, and works at the checkout at an A&P. All week she conforms to her family and society’s expectations of her, just biding her time until the weekend when she can be her butch self, strutting down the street and hitting her favourite bar to pick up a woman for the night.
Frenchy doesn’t want to be tied down, so even when she does have a girlfriend, she keeps things casual and doesn’t stay monogamous. Her life takes a new course when she visits Provincetown for a weekend and meets Mercedes, another butch lesbian from a Puerto Rican family in New York.
You can search far and wide through lesfic, but there’s no way you’ll find another character like Frenchy. She has such a singular voice and way of seeing the world that it’s easy to imagine her swaggering to the fullest, making the most of her less than five feet in height, and oozing confidence while she combs her pompadour back into place.
Through Mercedes, we’re given access to mutual friends of her and Frenchy, so we get even more insight into who Frenchy is, why she operates the way she does, and why her friends love her despite her strict personal code. These people add colour and texture to Frenchy’s world, helping us see who she is as her full, authentic self on Saturdays, which is a huge contrast to who she has to pretend to be all week. Lee Lynch’s character work is superb, and we’re taken on one hell of a journey as Frenchy grows up and learns that maybe her code doesn’t have all of the right answers.
The Writing Style
The Swashbuckler is a true masterpiece. First published in the mid-1980s, it’s written in a way that’s timeless, making it possible for anyone in any generation to get a taste of the butch experience of the 1960s and 70s. In what can only be described as a stroke of genius, we get a couple of chapters in the first person from Mercedes, as if we’re reading her diary, even though most of the book is written in the third person from Frenchy’s perspective. It shakes up the reading experience in a way that satisfied my desire to know more about Mercedes and her life, while simultaneously stirring curiosity about what’s up with Frenchy at the same time.
On top of all the other stuff I talked about—because seriously, everything about this book is amazing—I loved that we got to see Frenchy get her period while she’s out of town. It’s so REAL in a way that we rarely get to see in lesfic and I found myself marvelling at the intimacy of seeing how it affected her identity as a butch woman.
Not a one.
Buy it, read it, love it. If you haven’t experienced The Swashbuckler yet, you really must. This is a book that should be studied and celebrated, because stories like this don’t come around often.
Excerpt from The Swashbuckler by Lee Lynch
Frenchy, jaw thrust forward, legs pumping to the beat of the rock and roll song in her head, shoulders dipping left and right with every step, emerged from the subway at 14th Street and disappeared into a cigar store. Moments later, flicking a speck of nothing from the shoulder of her black denim jacket, then rolling its collar up behind her neck, she set out through the blueness and bustle of a New York Saturday night.
She stripped the cellophane from her pack of Marlboros, hit the base of the pack against her fist and drew a cigarette out with her lips. Though the summer breeze was light, she stopped in a doorway, tapped the cigarette against her fist and used her Zippo. She lengthened the stride of her short, exaggeratedly bowed legs and found her rhythm again, diddy-bopping downtown.
Silently singing Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry, she eyed the people around her on the street as she settled more into her walk. She knew she angered straight people, provoking merciless taunts and threats, but it was her own natural walk. She would walk as she wanted on Saturday nights.
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Bits and Bobs
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Lee Lynch Online
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