A Lesbian Shaggy Dog Story

Midnight Notes review a novel by Sarah Schulman.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 24, 2020

The Sophie Horowitz Story by Sarah Schulman (Naiad Press, 1984, $7.95)

Somewhere there ought to be someone who protects unsuspecting authors from the misguided efforts of their publishers. Naiad Press has just published a first novel by Sarah Schulman, The Sophie Horowitz Story. Maybe you'll get past the tarted up cover and the misleading jacket prose and treat yourself to a good read. But I doubt if you'll find it much like the hype. Its only resemblance to Fran Lebowitz, who's suggested on the cover, is that both seem to write about New York. Schulman writes New York, the New York we really live in. And if you have a passing acquaintance with left and feminist politics, you'll find it very familiar.

The Sophie Horowitz Story reads like a lesbian shaggy dog story (if that's a category yet) with a self-humor that reminds you more of Lenny Bruce or Woody Allen than Fran Lebowitz. There's a thread of a plot running through that neither matters very much or needs to make a whole lot of sense. Schulman writes 80's realism - "the powers that be" pull strings, making plots tangle or unravel. When the FBI, grand juries and crooked DA's are cutting deals with each other, we can't expect our heroine to be able to change the course of history anymore.

But Sophie's no leftist clone either. Schulman's caricatures of the various "revolutionary" types of the far-out left are down-right wicked (she's especially down on "educational leafletting"). Sophie's our hardboiled dyke, our post-modern Marlowe sleuthing her news story deep in the heart of the counter-culture. But unlike the traditional detective and unlike many ex-leftists, she doesn't see it as a "me against the world" situation. As cynical as she is about the Organized Left, she's idealistic about "community." Community is the junkies and the old ungentrified residents of her lower East Side heroine's neighborhood; it's Jewish culture, especially of the anarchist variety; it's the lesbian community. Community is Schulman's conceptual touchstone (as "cadre" is the organizing principle of her far-left characters). It's always a struggle though: communities are not found, they're made.

But make no mistake - this book is no political manifesto. In fact, if you're not familiar with late 60's politics, or part of the New York scene, you may not even notice Schulman's politics. So maybe from the book cover you expected sex. OK, it's there. But it isn't some great cure-all for the small and large frustrations of life. It isn't the solution to any of Sophie's problems. For that, try food. When Sophie's in a tough spot, she falls back on fried sauerkraut pirogis or the three varieties of herring. With sex, it's cheesecake or cherry babka - sweeter stuff. Sophie's scorn for pseudo-food (quiches and sprouts) is as much a political position against the gentrifiers who destroy a community's indigenous cuisine, as a jab against the diet mafia, that denies women the pleasure of fattening food. Maybe these days it takes more nerve to write about food that to write about sex anyway. Whatever, this book might not make you horny, but it will make you hungry.

Hungry, perhaps, for another instalment of the Sophie Horowitz story. It's like salted nuts...