The Girls Club, by Sally Bellerose.
Bywater Books, 2011.
Review by Debrah Lechner
The Girls Club observes and lovingly describes the passage from childhood to adulthood in a working-class, Catholic household rich with daughters (Cora Rose, Marie, and Renee, as well as hapless cousin Lorraine) in a society that is gradually, ever so gradually, changing―even if it is still changing too quickly for the LaBarre sisters at times.
As the sisters grow up they learn about the realities of life, of boys, of establishing lives and families, and formulate their individual definitions of sin while practicing their faith. The story is told from the point of view of Cora Rose, who has one ill-kept secret, “the dreaded bowl disease”― ulcerative colitis. Her sisters and family protect her from ridicule about her frequent bathroom visits and bouts of debilitating illness as well as they can, but Cora Rose can handle herself, as well as the sometimes unwanted help from her siblings, and she begins to learn early how to maintain her identity even when she finds herself afflicted with the shame and social insecurity that comes from being different.
She also has a secret that she initially hides from herself—that she is lesbian.
The Girls Club references her close relationship with her sisters, and also a lesbian bar that has, unknown to Cora Rose, been thriving a few blocks away from her home. There she meets an old friend from school, and many new women to inspire her, if only she can manage the reactions of her sisters, the husband she married when she became pregnant, and most importantly, avoid confusing her young son as she navigates both her coming-out process and her ostomy procedure, which changes her body at the same time that she is defining and revealing her sexuality. A passage from The Girls Club:
"A woman on the stool next to me says, “You okay?” She’s not a regular. Or at least, I’ve not seen her before. Maybe she’s been coming here for months. “Adjusting my ostomy bag.” It’s the wrong thing to say to a woman you’ve just met in a bar. It’s kind of fun to say the wrong thing and not really give a damn."
This is a book with both pathos and humor, very fun to read, that will reinforce the hope that friendships and family can flourish even through illness, differing lives and unfulfilled expectations.
Bellerose has published in numerous venues and was awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts for an excerpt of The Girls Club. It is available on Amazon.com both in a paperback and Kindle version. There’s an interview with Sally Bellerose on the web with the great title of Talking Shit and Getting Away With It. Check that out too.