Jane (Vance) Rule

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Janet Aalfs

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[Jane Rule's] Outlander is a collection of stories and essays about the lives of lesbians….

Outlander reflects the courage it takes to speak out of imposed silences—and in doing so, makes room for the stories that have not yet been told.

The strength of Outlander's diversity lies in its portrayal of lesbians of different ages, class backgrounds, physical abilities—perspectives that are often overlooked. Its weakness is the absence of Third World lesbians. (p. 81)

Jane Rule's stories and essays inspire me to challenge my own view of the world, my place in it, and my relationships to others. The settings and characters she describes and brings alive with her words are ones that I am familiar with in some way—whether it is a certain look in the eye, tilt of the head, or recognizable personality. Those which I have not experienced directly become a part of me through her vivid use of words. These stories are about lesbians living on the edge—"Outlanders"—outside of society's rules, and yet never totally disengaged from the ways we have been affected by society's values. Without being idyllic or tragic, Jane Rule sustains a drama that expresses the day-to-day struggles of real people's lives.

"Home Movie" reads like a film in that it is so intensely visual, sensual, tactile…. This story shows the process of a woman learning to accept herself, her music, her feelings for women, and in that process, coming into her own….

"The Day I Don't Remember" involves the never-ending feeling of being pulled to make our lives more acceptable, especially to our families of origin—and the contortions we go through to cover over who we really are when our identity and security are threatened. (p. 83)

"The Puppet Show" involves a threesome and a child. Lesbians with children have a whole set of problems to deal with that those of us who are childless can often not even imagine….

What I appreciated most is how Rule seemed to understand the viewpoint of the child as well as the intricacies of the three women's relationships. (pp. 83-4)

"Outlander," the title story, is about life on the edge in an actual physical sense. In a harsh natural environment, you must be willing to accept help from people you might not otherwise be drawn to. Two women "companions" move to a farm in New Hampshire. They grow together in the struggle to weather harsh winter conditions and the various influxes of family members who have never been particularly sensitive to Ann, the main character, and her needs or desires. Ann is an alcoholic who has spent time at a sanatorium and is familiar with life on the "edge." With the help of Fran, whose role is originally a sort of nurse, Ann begins to understand her anger and where it comes from. As Fran has taken care of her, so Ann learns that she must finally care for Fran…. (p. 84)

My expectations of an author who is obviously committed to discovering the truth of our lives are high. Combining the story and essay form in one volume is consistent with Rule's dedication to presenting the characters she chooses as whole beings; dispensing with the separations of imagination and reason that we learn in American mass media culture at an early age. Rule's stories give us detail and in doing so break the silence of invisibility and denial that we as lesbians experience in the world. The essays create a larger framework for understanding the environment in which we live and that which we continue to create for ourselves. In combination, the vision...

(This entire section contains 774 words.)

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is one of integrity and strength. (p. 85)

One of the dangers in speaking the truth is that we can become entrenched in feeling miserable about all that is wrong with the world and our lives. Jane Rule does not. She maintains a sense of humor, an irony that allows for transformation. In the midst of confusion, her characters keep fighting for dear life, often with laughter. (p. 86)

Rule does not romanticize our lives…. Because she does examine so many of the assumptions we are taught to make about what life is supposed to be like, I am struck by the absence of viewpoints other than mostly that of white America, despite a woman-identified cast. Still, Outlander paves the way for further exploration and discovery. Reading it inspired me to question myself and my perceptions. Rule's stories and essays give me a vision of hope for the future and growing older…. (p. 87)

Janet Aalfs, "Difficult but Not Impossible" (copyright © Fall 1982; reprinted by permission of the author), in Sinister Wisdom, No. 21, Fall, 1982, pp. 81-7.


Catherine Ross