Lucy Jane Bledsoe's 'Tell the Rest'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday March 21, 2023
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Lucy Jane Bledsoe
Lucy Jane Bledsoe

For the two enthralling queer protagonists in author Lucy Jane Bledsoe's just-published novel, they have lived a life scarred by their time in a Christian conversion camp, each bearing the enduring weight of psychological pain and torment. Both Delia Barnes and Ernest Wrangham were gay teenagers when they enacted a daring escape from Celebration Camp, fleeing the mental torture and anguish they were subjected to in exchange for a life of deliverance and freedom.

More than twenty years later, both are thriving in their separate lives, having squelched the trauma of their youth at the Oregon camp, but when life suddenly brings unexpected change, they each turn back to start fresh.

Delia comes back to her hometown of Rockside, Oregon, after her wife leaves her and she loses her job, while Ernest, a Black poet, has returned to take a temporary teaching position at the local Portland-area college. Serendipitously, both meet up and begin to share notes on the horrors of their youth and how they've fared across the ensuing decades.

Delia, saddled with lifelong anger issues, takes on girls' basketball team coaching duties at her old high school. But the team's success becomes more of an aggressive personal goal than one for the good of the sport. Eventually she comes around to the realization that the team needs her more as a role model and compassionate coach than anything and the hard façade she's built over time begins to fall away.

A series of flashbacks tells the horrifying story of their ordeal at the camp and how, when one of their fellow campers breaks the rules, he is met with a crushing punishment.

Chapters in Ernest's voice are sprinkled in, but his journey is not as fully realized as Delia's, despite both having experienced the same harrowing ordeal. This narrative imbalance is noticeable but doesn't hobble the story, thankfully; there is plenty of tension and resolution in store for readers.

Redemption and catharsis are the key themes permeating the novel, with each protagonist achieving their version in due time and through their own internal emotional processes. Small-town life is portrayed realistically while the contributory characters (kitties included) all add spice and interest to a story that will touch many readers on several different levels, from internalized trauma to queer solidarity to religious emancipation.

Through her characters, Bledsoe, a Lambda Literary and Ferro-Grumley Award finalist, digs down into the deep wounds and enduring trauma of conversion therapy victims and directly addresses issues of spiritual abuse. Never sugarcoating her subject matter, Bledsoe's novel channels the need for queer people to confront and combat the encroaching influence of the Christian Right in America from every angle possible.

"Tell the Rest" by Lucy Jane Bledsoe; Akashic Books, $28.95

Lucy Jane Bledsoe will discuss her new novel with Marvin K. White on Thursday, March 30, at 7pm at Fabulosa Books, 489 Castro Street in San Francisco.

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