Why Rubyfruit Jungle was a huge disappointment
Rubyfruit Jungle is a book about growing up as a lesbian and defying the norm in 1970s America. It’s about finding yourself and paving the way for the people who follow.
*This review contains some spoilers for the book Rubyfruit Jungle*
I’ve never read a book which has a lesbian protagonist before, partly because I was too scared of ‘being found out’ (which feels really silly now). I chose Rubyfruit Jungle as my first because it’s said to be the coming out book, so I thought it was the best choice.
I loved the book at first and raced through the first half. But *minor spoiler* just after Molly goes to NYC it lost me. It started to read like a completely different book and it seemed like events were being thrown in for the sake of padding out the story or providing shock factor. It just started to feel weird to read.
At the beginning I looked past the fact that pretty much every girl Molly fancied somehow ended up in bed with her but, in the second half, I couldn’t look past it anymore. It’s just too unbelievable that every woman you, as a lesbian, want to take to bed complies, whether that be from wanting to explore some long-repressed attraction to women or because they’re still in an exploratory phase. This doesn’t happen in this day-and-age, so I’m 99.9% sure it didn’t happen in the 70s!
That wasn’t the only thing in Rubyfruit Jungle which wasn’t believable; a young girl, in her first night in a new city, finds an abandoned car to sleep in, but that car just happens to be occupied by a gay homeless man who doesn’t mind her sharing the car, and who takes her out in the city and finds her a way to make money. Sure.
The unbelievable events weren’t the worst thing about this book, though, as there were many problematic events – mostly towards the end. The way butch girls are portrayed is not great. Molly is femme and she is only attracted to femme girls, which is fine. What isn’t fine is to perpetuate the stereotype of butch girls wanting to be men.
Molly seems to get pretty much whatever she sets her mind to which is admirable except when she forces herself onto Polina. When I got to that part I instantly wanted to stop reading. It didn’t fit in with the rest of the story and didn’t seem like Molly at all; Molly was always a girl who got what she wanted but seemed to understand that sometimes she would have to give up trying. There’s also a bit about incest right at the end. I saw it coming but it just wasn’t necessary.
I think it would have been better to use the last few pages/chapters of weirdness to properly curate an ending. As it is, the ending is abrupt and it left me wanting more, but not in a good way. The book was gearing up to show Molly breaking into a male dominated industry and becoming successful, but the ending just felt flat and disappointing.
So, what did I like about Rubyfruit Jungle? Well, pretty much all the first half. The protagonist, Molly, had many flaws but she was also likeable and funny – many of her witty remarks had me laughing and it was easy to see why so many women in the story fell for her. She’s also confident, sure of herself and doesn’t care what people think of her. That being said, she recognises the huge problem that society has with women and members of the LGBT+ community and wants to be part of the change, although I don’t think she really knows how apart from just being herself and pushing boundaries.
I like the diversity within this book. Do I think it could be improved? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it would have stood out as one of the most diverse books of the era in the 70s? Yes (but correct me if I’m wrong). The main character, Molly, didn’t really care about the race, sexuality, or gender of people she met. She sometimes had a problem with this (see the bit about butch girls above) but, for the most part, she took it all in her stride.
I also loved the fact that Molly was so self-assured and knew what she wanted – or, in the case of marriage and children, what she didn’t want – out of life. As a person who has to deal with people’s ridiculous responses when I tell them I don’t want kids on a regular basis, it was refreshing to see someone else go through it and stick firmly to her guns, especially in an era when women growing up to not get married and have children was really defying the norm.
All-in-all, I think Rubyfruit Jungle is a classic in its own right, and I think it’s good read for anyone who doesn’t regularly see themselves represented in fiction. I loved the first half and think it’s a fabulously refreshing read. However, the second half just became weird and I honestly think that, if read by people with a closed mind or who do not know that the way Molly sometimes behaves is not the norm for members of the LGBT+ community, it can do more harm than good.
Has anyone read Rubyfruit Jungle? What did you think? Does anyone want to read it? Let me know in the comments!
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