When I was a lot younger, I lived in London where it could be near impossible to find decent rented accommodation. (I talked in my blogpost on Consent about the lengths to which a young woman might be driven to get somewhere to live.) Like the characters in Mobile Home for the Holidays, by patientlee (Patient Lee - link to quality review blog), I did everything I could to avoid sleeping on the streets. I often had to accept a kind sofa from friends, eventually feeling so guilty about taking a long time to find a place of my own to rent that I would accept excessively expensive and dangerous room offers. I used to joke about one area I lived in where there had been two murders in the previous year, that I wasn't worried about walking home, it was when I got there that I was nervous.
Recently I was in a more unusual position. I work, and had a very large sum of money to put towards buying a house. Because of the wording of my work contracts and the nervousness of banks following the recent financial crisis - precipitated in part by insecure housing loans, I could not get any bank to give me a mortgage. At times I feared I would have to waste my substantial lump sum in the exorbitant rents which are charged for family homes in the area where I live. I also feared I would have to give up our much loved family pets to get a small flat for myself and Piglet. I felt silly getting so emotional about the animals when I had a small child to think of, but I also felt angry that I had to feel like that. I knew I could find the tabby a good home, but that it would be hard to find somewhere for the black mother cat - who became more aggressive after having kittens (not my choice - I was assured she'd been spayed!). I knew Piglet would be distraught if we had to give up the cats; when this happens, children may fear they are as expendable as loved pets, never mind that she is very fond of the cats.
I teach social sciences, currently a Level 1 module which has a lot of economics in it, so I am in the interesting position of understanding the market forces in an economy so predicated on privately owned housing which impact unfairly on some individuals and families. Luckily I did manage to sort out a safe and happy home for all of us (we love it here and the cats spend hours watching birds and squirrels out of the window). I am still close enough to that experience of homelessness to feel intensely grateful for my good fortune and this Christmas I made sure I donated to a local homelessness charity.
In Mobile Home for the Holidays, Hailey finds herself homeless when her grandmother dies and she can no longer afford the rent on the trailer home they had shared. False pride prevents her accepting help from the trailer park owner. She tries to sleep in her car while continuing to work as a carer for the elderly. Although her work is valuable and physically demanding, her salary is so low that she can't afford both food and rent. (Let's not even ask about medical insurance!)
This background is lightly and believably sketched in a soft focus lesbian romance. Characters are credible and appealingly quirky. There could be more to Hailey; the story is told in the first person from her Point of View, and she ends up being more of a lens to tell the story than a personality. A young woman who is willing to cheerfully do the hard and often dirty work of caring for the elderly must have something going for her, but it's difficult to convey this in the first person without coming across as cocky. Maybe writing in a scene of banter with the residents of the home where she works would help?
The main issue though, is in the interaction between characters and particularly around the depiction of lesbian sexuality. This is not surprising, as 'what do lesbians do in bed?' is still not well understood. The joke answer to this is: read books, eat salted snacks and grumble about the crumbs in the bed, implying that lesbian sexuality is not much different to heterosexuality. The major difference, however, is that lesbian women suffer a double prejudice: as gay and as women. Queer women, as women, are as prone to experience prejudice in employment and therefore low wages as straight women, with a much lower possibility of finding a partner whose salary might make up for this.
What this means for writers who are not 'in the life' is that lesbian sub-culture is hidden from view. Lesbian women are doubly vulnerable, so don't make a big show of socialising, not least in order to save ourselves from men who like to fantasise about two women together. (There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that but there is a world of difference between a male fantasy of lesbian sex such as voiced by Kingswoman, and an erotic lesbian story which will turn women on.) Plus, lesbian women have less income and therefore there are fewer clubs, magazines, published books which would showcase lesbian lives. Books and magazine articles don't usually dwell on the ordinariness of lesbian lives, they need a good story-line after all, and are often written with a positive spin on lives which are lived in fear of, if not constant experience of, homophobic and sexist discrimination.
Patient Lee focuses here on a feel-good story about two young women who are in desperate housing straits getting a small hand-up from friends and the care home residents which is all they need. It does not take much to save someone from benefits dependency and unfairly ending up homeless. She creates likeable characters in an enjoyable holiday story, with a light moral message.
This is only a short story, perhaps there isn't scope to also write about the panoply of prejudice experienced by lesbian women, so she brushes quickly over some of this. Hailey's grandmother's friend turns out to be surprisingly un-homophobic. Some of the male care home residents make comments, but this is not too much for Hailey and Morgan. The care home readily offers Morgan, Hailey's newfound lover, a job so the two women can afford a trailer home together.
In actuality, I would expect the women at the care home, who may need intimate assistance from the two young women, to be uncomfortable. Men are usually a bit sly when I say I have had women partners - the kind of men I hang with are too smart to ask if they can watch, but I sort of see them thinking about it. For the care home to offer a job to a young woman straight off the street would be unusual.
Hailey and Morgan need some tidying up. The way in which they meet - picking food out of dumpsters and regarding a meal at a Wendy's as deliciously hot - is depicted with fine gritty realism. Morgan is an appealing churlish waif, as attractive a character as the two women in Patient Lee's story of older lesbian love published in Hot Summer Reads. Hailey's reaction to her story of how Morgan's parents treated her when they found out she is lesbian is curiously flat, though. Hailey's lack of understanding of her own sexuality doesn't quite ring true. Something more is needed here, something to raise the emotional stakes. Morgan's initial appeal for Hailey is that she is this waif who is living off the street at a level even below Hailey's. There needs to be more about the physical attraction Hailey feels towards her and it needs to be made clearer that Morgan finds Hailey attractive, before Hailey launches herself at Morgan for a snog.
Lesbians in bed are not really very interesting to watch, BTW. Lesbian sex is more fun for the participants than for voyeurs. Probably the best guide to lesbian lives is the Alison Bechdel Dykes to Watch Out For series of cartoons (I link to Bechdel's blog in my blogroll). Bechdel maps with humour and insight the lesbian mix of intense political fervour and anxious checking out of other women (is she/isn't she? will she be outraged if I put my hand on her knee?), covering a rapidly changing world with a keen eye. In my lifetime, we went from being in relationships which were legal in Britain only because Queen Victoria refused to believe women had sex with women, to being able to marry. It became almost normal for lesbian women to have children. Tabloid papers ceased to be able to slily discredit teachers, nurses and other hardworking carers by revealing that we happened to be in a relationship with another woman.
Patient Lee can be a magnificent writer of repressed sexuality, as demonstrated in the superb Lost Agnes. Mobile Home for the Holidays is a good read and a little work on the character interaction would bring it up to the high standard of Patient Lee's other stories.