‘I Came Out for This?’ By Lisa Gitlin

Bywater Books has been making a concerted effort to play with the big guns–Bella and Bold Strokes–in both the romance and mystery fields.

With several Lammy finalists and a recent Lammy winner in their stacks, they are becoming a press to watch.

With their latest offering, I Came Out for This?, they may have another Lammy winner on their hands. They definitely have one of the best-looking lesbian books this season.

Lisa Gitlin’s funny, quixotic, poignant, gut-wrenching and yes, romantic debut novel is definitely a must-read. More than just the standard romance fare, I Came Out for This?, is told as a series of journal entries between 1999 and 2001. The book design has the pages look like those ripped from a journal which gives an added sense of verisimilitude to the story.

Joanna Kane is a professional writer, Jewish, and in her late 40s. She’s also recently came out at 45, because living in Cleveland, Ohio wasn’t enough of a trial.

She’s fallen in love with a woman, Terri, who loves someone else; in fact, she is always loves someone else because she’s that kind of lesbian–and Joanna’s not sure what to do.

But then she tries some other things, and ends up in Washington, D.C. Because then she gets to have two cities to bash—and bash them she does.

Hilarity and romance and lots of sadness ensue.

Joanna is a whiner; she’s also a comedian—not intentionally, she’s just unbelievably witty (as is Gitlin). So what starts out as a diatribe, and actually continues for the entire 300 pages as a diatribe, is never irritating, never maudlin, is indeed occasionally shockingly irreverent but is always, always, always immensely readable.

Here is Joanna on the misery of relationships:

So now I don’t feel so lonely realizing that everybody is living in hell. Or at least millions of other people. And most of them are worse off than I am. It’s like we’re living in a giant Auschwitz with these agonized, tortured, humiliated people stumbling around like the walking dead, wondering how they are going to get through the next day.

Maybe it’s not nice to compare regular life with Auschwitz. I take it back. But still, it would be better to be a dog than a human, when you really think about it.

I’m going out to drink more. This is great. I’m coming up with all these insights. Next I’m going to figure out how to kill Sandra.

This book is a bona fide page-turner; there’s no suspense—it’s not that kind of page turner, but it is compelling from the first sentence to the last. There you are, you read that line about Auschwitz and gasp, and then Joanna realizes that might be over-the-top, too.

Yes, Gitlin has a razor-sharp insight into the foibles of love and human nature, and Joanna’s first- person narrative reads like the ranting of a real woman who is alternately in love, angry, sad, embarrassed, verklempt, and ultimately incredibly strong and vibrant.

It’s difficult to imagine who wouldn’t love this book. If it’s not on the list of finalists next year for a Lammy, there’s no justice, as Joanna Kane herself might claim.

Get this book and read it and then give it to someone else. It’s that good.