Portrait of a Crossroads
Release Date: May 18, 2013
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: GLBT – lesbian
Book Source: NetGalley
Since finding her father’s body at the bottom of the basement stairs, Annette’s been drifting through her days, watching cars pass down the rural Ontario crossroads beside her house. Her brothers have no great ambitions, but Annette remembers a time when she did. She just can’t remember what they are.
Then she meets her neighbour, Sadie, a tattooed, world-weary, newly single portrait artist. Something about Sadie awakens something in Annette—the essence she captures in her subjects, perhaps, or the way the old familiar crossroads seem so fresh and promising from the view out Sadie’s window.
Annette begins to help Sadie, cleaning brushes and filing invoices between long lazy afternoons of conversations and shared silences. Soon, though, Annette wants more from her enigmatic neighbor, and their slowly heating friendship melts into passionate nights. Somewhere along the way, Annette discovers that her lover has illuminated for her, as with the people Sadie paints, not just her essence, but her own endless worlds of possibilities.
Since discovering her father after his suicide, Annette keeps mostly to herself, gauging the momentum of the world outside her house by sound. Trucks, cars, and airplanes provide the only movement along the crossroad where she lives, their sounds having grown so commonplace that she doesn’t even have to look to know what they are as they pass by. She should be moving on to the next phase of her life, like so many of her recent classmates, but even the glossy college brochures don’t tempt her. But, when the artist who lives next door offers Annette a glimpse into her own life, Annette feels like she’s finally waking up from a very long, tedious dream.
There is quite a lot to like about this short story, and I wasn’t sure what to start with. Ms. Rand has an excellent ability to create vivid settings, her descriptions relating not just color, but texture and history as well. In fact, these scenes have the potential to overshadow the characters themselves, but fortunately don’t. By contrast, there’s a thoughtful economy in the portrayal of most of Annette’s life until she meets Sadie and walks through her door into a different world.
Although Annette’s circumstances in Portrait of a Crossroads could be viewed as tragic, they aren’t. Annette isn’t so much grieving, as she is waiting, but in watching the girl she was fade into something she no longer recognizes, she’s not sure where she should be headed next. She’s neither bitter, nor apathetic, but is simply an eighteen-year-old who was knocked off course by loss, and hasn’t yet begun to search for who she really is. She isn’t wallowing, but is very aware and poised to react whenever a new path might reveal itself. In short, I found Annette to be a very interesting young woman.
Sadie, Annette’s neighbor, remains a secondary character throughout the story, never sharing narrating duties with Annette, nor rising to a position of absolute permanence in Annette’s future, which works very well, as it’s Annette’s story. Sadie is older than Annette, is already living her life as she wants to, and is completely open about her sexuality. Once again, Ms. Rand’s knack for allowing the reader to assume Annette’s perspective so thoroughly is put to good use in passages like this:
As Sadie headed for the living room, Annette watched her from head to toe. Her narrow shoulder that shifted under a white shirt thin enough to reveal the faint trace of ink underneath. Her bare feet. They both had bare feet, Annette realized. They had something in common. Neither of them wore shoes.
Sadie represents just a few of the many possibilities Annette hasn’t yet considered, while becoming the impetus for Annette’s renewed self-exploration in the process.
Sex between Annette and Sadie is similarly low-key. While she is fairly certain of Sadie’s attraction to her, it is Annette who ultimately initiates their first time together, and it is their only interaction within the confines of the story. Sadie makes Annette feel a “spark” in a way her former boyfriend never could. With him, Annette was merely biding her time, but Sadie has become her fantasy. When Annette has the opportunity to act on her desires, she chooses to pursue them, and in the process, resumes the forward momentum of her life. Sadie, for her part, is willing, yet cautious, and she accepts her role as both a guide and partner in Annette’s exploration with a fondness that made their interaction even sexier.
Portrait of a Crossroads is, at its simplest, the story of a young woman finding her way. Ms. Rand has created a world of striking contrast for Annette to exist in, taking her from the monotony of a life in stasis and jolting her into an awareness that is rich in both color and feeling. That the main character happens to be a lesbian isn’t even the most noteworthy aspect of the story, which I was very happy to see. Such fanfare could have done significant harm to Ms. Rand’s wonderful storytelling, but nothing of the sort occurs. I haven’t read a great deal of f/f fiction, but if Portrait of a Crossroads is any indication of the genre’s potential, then I’m very excited to see what else might be out there.
Enjoyed – strongly recommend (A-)