June Akers Seese’s second novel is about books and the people who read them: it’s about a rare-book dealer and his mistress, set in that era when words like “mistress” were still used, and recalling the years when Lenny Bruce, Edith Piaf, and Freud might share the same paragraph in an after-hours night spot. Seese writes movingly, tightly, without recourse to adjectives, from the gut and to the gut.
The scenes shift from libraries to bedrooms and everything is questioned: discount houses, abortion, singles bars, black power, and old age. The places shift from Detroit to New York to San Francisco, from the mid-1950s to the beginning of the counterculture ’60s. While in San Francisco, Kate McGhee—the mistress and narrator—listens to an unknown singer named Janis Joplin.
With close attention to detail, Seese recaptures that time when the first stirrings of feminism would call into question many of the assumptions and values women like Kate were raised under and, often enough, buried under. More than anything, Seese’s characters crave reality and the strength to endure it.