Where are the engaging novels about resistance, with lesbian feminists as lead characters? Two such wonders were hiding in the days of the early 90s, right around the time that I was born. Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel are set within the social climate that radical activists faced in that era, but the tales are refreshingly relevant for today, featuring righteously enraged women taking action against power, loving each other, and growing up.
Many know author Lierre Keith for her phenomenal works of non-fiction, including The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability and Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. Most do not know, however, that Keith's wisdom comes from a rich personal history of feminist activism, beautifully reflected in her early, self-published novels. While Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel are certainly youthful, they are also written with the empathy and bravery so common in individuals who know from a young age the depths of the evil in the world and the simple truth that they must change it. This truth has shaped Lierre Keith's life and the the young woman who wrote these lesser-known novels is now, twenty years later, helping to lead a serious resistance movement against the destructive forces of civilization, capitalism, and patriarchy.
While the content in between the covers of both of Lierre's novels share some similar qualities—the theme of feminists fighting back, stories and language sure to suck the reader in until the end and leave them yearning for more—each is unique in its plot and tone.
Conditions of War is a humbling tale of young, militant, lesbian feminists who organize and take action together, all the while trying navigating interpersonal relationships within their group. The main character, nicknamed the simple X, is known by her comrades as having a low tolerance for too much talk not enough action. She is always on board to spray paint the local court house or destroy pornography at the video store. Meanwhile, she deals with past and current abusive relationships; her own and those of her friends. When another woman is slain in town, the women in X's group see it as yet another advancement of the ward against women. They immediately prepare to confront the situation, but first they must confront each other.
Andrea Dworkin praised Conditions of War as "large hearted, a terrific story of love and adventure among women who fight for women. It is bittersweet and funny, redolent with the sadness of lost love and not a few broken dreams. Lierre Keith has written a coming-of-age story for radical feminists in a time of serial sadism—a graceful political entertainment for the brave, the stubborn, the defiant, and those who want to be." Indeed, in this time of horizontal hostility, disorganization, and a lack of will to fight, this is a novel that young activists today are urgently in need of.
Skyler Gabriel, Keith's second novel, is a perfect feminist mystery. In the book's synopsis, we learn that Skyler Gabriel is a "24-year-old, unemployed, bass guitar player in a lesbian rock 'n' roll band. She also has reason to believe that the death of pro-choice playwright Diana Frasier was something a little more sinister than suicide. And when Diane's young daughter turns up missing, Skyler's the only one who can save her." On this foundation begins a hilarious, yet harrowing, story of a woman who, with great determination and love, stands between abusers and their victims. With the help of her friends, Skyler Gabriel uncovers the twisted plot of some white supremacist men, that one by one is taking the lives of young children—and she knows what she must do to stop it. This is a story that had me gasping in suspense and left in tears by the end.
What Lierre Keith has done is created stories that can sustain a culture of resistance. Activists—especially young ones—need stories to teach them how to navigate both their personal journeys of growing up and their dedication to creating revolutionary social change. Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel beautifully encapsulate both the personal and political aspects of a radical's life and offer a mythology in which our love and rage may be shown a path to lead us to that grand goal of justice.