Book Review of A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s “A Thin Bright Light Line” is a relatively new book as it was published in 2016. Earlier this year I attended a conference and at one of the panels I went to,  Bledsoe did a reading of this book. I was immediately intrigued and after the panel I knew I had to get this book and read it as quickly as possible. It had been a while since I had been so hooked by just a few paragraphs of a novel.A Thin Bright Line

 

“A Thin Bright Line” is a fictitious work that follows the life of a real person and overall has a lot of truth in it. The main character is actually Bledsoe’s deceased aunt, Lucybelle Bledsoe. Lucybelle died in a fire when Bledsoe was a child and therefore she never knew much of her aunt. However, as an adult she became curious about who her aunt was and as she began to research, she stumbled across fascinating information. Lucybelle had worked for the government during the Cold War and was involved with research of ice cores. In addition to that revelation, Bledsoe discovered  her aunt was a lesbian and had been forced to hide that fact due to the time period.

The novel starts in Greenwich Village where Lucybelle is living with her longterm girlfriend, Phyllis. Lucybelle is approached one day by a strange man who knows a lot about her and offers her a significantly better job in Chicago. She refuses at first and returns to her home. However, she discovers that Phyllis is leaving her in order to marry one of their gay male friends. Phyllis felt that her theater career was suffering because of her unmarried status and she desperately wanted a family. Lucybelle is heartbroken and decides to take the job offer in Chicago. However, it is made clear to her that she can’t have any romantic relationships, and that if she does so, there will be repercussions. She is given a fabricated backstory where her husband died in the war and she is now a widow who is uninterested in relationships. She begins her job in Chicago and is an editor of scientific papers on ice cores. She then meets Stella, a woman who runs a taxi cab company with her longterm girlfriend. The two begin a whirlwind affair and fall deeply in love. This all comes to a halting crash when Stella’s girlfriend discovers the affair. Lucybelle is left once again with heartbreak.  She’s relocated to Lebanon, NH to continue research and is accompanied by three secretaries that she also works with. These three women are also lesbians and deeply closeted in order to avoid detection and the possibility of losing their jobs. In Lebanon, Lucybelle begins to write a novel and she falls in love with a researcher, Vera. The novel ends with the night that Lucybelle died in a fire. While the book ends before her death, readers are aware that it is the night she died as each day is marked with date.

I felt that this book was incredibly well written, with a strong plot and even stronger characters. Each character felt developed, unique and were given traits that made them feel real. They were all flawed in believable and very human ways.  Some were incredibly likable, and others were  irritating in a realistic manner.  The ensemble characters allowed for the story to really come to life and showed the diversity that has always existed. Emotions were particularly well developed within this story. By this, I mean that each of Lucybelle’s heartbreaks felt different. She was saddened each time but it was clear that they impacted her differently.  This added to the authenticity of the novel, as no two heartbreaks are the same. The wit infused throughout this novel was also a strength and highlight of it. There were some moments that were genuinely funny and Lucybelle was a sharp and clever character; her observations were frequently amusing and cutting. While this book features a lot of romance, I wouldn’t classify it in anyway as a romance novel. It’s following someone’s life and career, and romance simply happens to be a significant part of that. 

My only real criticism of the novel was that some parts felt as though they were unnecessary. This was particularly how I felt about Phyllis making a brief return in the second part of the book. It furthered the plot temporarily, but I felt as though the plot could have continued just fine without her interference. There was enough tension already without her coming back into Lucybelle’s life, especially because she exited it shortly after. I felt the same way when one of the secretaries repeatedly tried to create a relationship with Lucybelle and later had a large fight with her in front of their work colleagues. I understood that it was there for tension, but by that point, there was enough tension coming from other parts of the book. Occasionally these moments felt overwhelming and like there was simply too much going on at once.
Overall, I’m so happy that I read this book as I deeply enjoyed it. It was intriguing and I found myself consistently invested. I cared about the characters and what would happen to them.  This novel touched upon a lot of important topics,  the civil rights movement being one of them. Stella was black and this wasn’t something that was ignored; when her and Lucybelle were together, the difference in their treatment was made quite clear to the reader. I enjoyed reading a novel where an array of lesbian relationships were being depicted, and that while there was heartbreak, there were also many  loving and successful relationships as well.  I was also pleased to see issues such as having to be closeted being addressed within the narrative. I think that this is a novel that anyone could enjoy, but particularly those are who interested with history and the Cold War era, those who are interested in strong characters and people who like well written romances.

 

A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

323 pages. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Hardcover $26.95

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