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Jennifer Parello’s Dateland [3 October, 2007]

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Jennifer Parello, McKenna Publishing Group, 198 pages, 2007

Jennifer Parello’s debut novel, Dateland, is a fun romp through a world populated entirely by lesbians who talk non-stop in the kind of patter made famous—if not entirely likeable—by the television show Gilmore Girls.  They spend most of their time plotting ways to seduce each other or setting up dates for their unsuspecting friends.

Julia, the narrator, is a partner in a Chicago law firm with her friend Tricia, who lives with Anne in an open relationship—understood as such mostly by Tricia.  Jean and Julia move in together but Jean absconds with Michelle just as she’s supposed to close on a condo with Julia.  Julia meets Claire, who has never been with a woman and who is still close friends with her ex-husband and his current wife.  So far, so lesbian.

This central cast of characters is surrounded by every conceivable kind of dyke, from the upper middle-class power couple who decide to give birth to their second child after adopting the first from China because artificial insemination is now the more fashionable option, to the vegans who create an uproar when Tricia walks into a bridge session wearing leather shoes.  Julia is a wryly self-conscious narrator who’s aware of all her contradictions.  When she discovers that a group of squatters on welfare is about to be evicted from a dilapidated 1920s building on the lakefront, she’s quick to outwardly empathize with their plight but can’t resist making her own plans: “I nodded my head to demonstrate my mutual liberal outrage.  But as I strolled back home and gazed at the muscular skyline of brick and stone, I mentally calculated what it would cost to buy one of the buildings and convert it into condos.”

Parello, a columnist for Nightlines and a Chicago resident, writes lovingly of the North Side lesbian community and its hangouts.  Dateland reaffirms a central fact of lesbian life everywhere: we are incapable of ever truly separating from our lovers, even after the most disastrous and dramatic break-ups.  An army of ex-lovers, to borrow the title of Amy Hoffman’s recent memoir, turns into a cadre of friends.

This is an energetic, lively and hilarious book that doesn’t try to be anything other than unpretentious lesbian lit.  Ultimately, Dateland also reminds me of all the reasons I don’t date.  Despite their collective show of careless detachment from conventional romance, every lesbian in this book is eager to succumb to the plague of domesticity that overwhelms our community.

Parello’s characters, like so many of us, take special joy in living entangled lives.  But they all eventually settle into comfortable attachments to those who bring the least pain and complication.  Claire, for instance, presented as the ideal, is so adorable, so winsome, so utterly well-adjusted and charming that you’d like to wring her slender neck.  Life settles easily for us into a pattern of Sunday brunches and predictable routines, even if they are routines peppered with lesbian drama.  We have convinced ourselves that being happy and being interesting are two incommensurable states of being. 

Originally published in Windy City Times, 3 October, 2007

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