“Why didn’t Mark’s mother get custody?”
“Oh, don’t you know about that?” She purses her lips disdainfully. “The mother is a lesbian. Or was. Well, I suppose she still is. Anyway, one couldn’t have one’s son raised by two of them.”
She waits for my concordance. Naturally, I don’t give it to her. This is when silence strangles. But I remind myself why I’m here, why I’m talking to this woman, and put my resentment on the shelf, noting, once again, that we are everywhere. (p. 105)
The 1991 novel Everything You Have Is Mine is the start of Sandra Scoppettone’s Lauren Laurano mystery series. In this book we meet Lauren Laurano, lesbian private investigator, who is called by Ursula Huron: Ursula’s sister Lake has been raped, and Ursula wants Lauren to find the rapist. Lauren immediately starts digging in, but just as she starts getting somewhere, Lake is reported dead by suicide. Lauren suspects murder but with little yet to go on, she starts learning everything she can about the people closest to Lake, uncovering a complex family history. In the process she finds herself exploring modern methods of making new connections, through the new world of BBSes.
I really enjoyed this book. Scoppettone has a great sense of language and pace, and the smart-aleck silliness of her protagonist makes manageable the sadness that pervades the story. The plot was fun if sometimes silly or clichéd, and I suspect that much of the cliché factor has to do with many other later fictions leaning on this one for inspiration: it was the first lesbian mystery to be published by a mainstream press, and to be reviewed by the New York Times. But generally, the failings of the plot are pretty common for mystery fiction, and I felt that the weaknesses of the plot were outweighed by the strengths of the story, its characters, and their relationships.
Next to the strange family she’s investigating, Lauren’s life is almost peaceful: much of the story is about the daily life of her and her partner, and their variously-partnered friends. While homophobia isn’t absent from their lives, their experience of their sexual orientations is shaped first by love rather than longing, and that rare choice helped to ground the story and transform the role homophobia takes in its conflicts. Among other things, that homophobia becomes merely one of many things where she regularly must make the decision whether or not to “prevent politics from overcoming priorities” (p. 106), along with issues like her age and gender: at the end of the day, she knows she’s going home to her partner, and that changes how a character uses their fire.
The book is also wonderful as a time capsule of the start of the 90s, describing New York City, the lives of LGBT people who were no longer young and single, and the growing role of the internet in people’s lives. I was particularly struck by a moment in which Lauren rattles off a list of community-focused, gender-inclusive gay bars that had closed down in favor of cruising-focused men-only bars. It was both a time capsule moment and a connector moment: I remember engaging in the same conversation twenty years later about the state of the other side of the continent. Meanwhile, it was delightful to see Lauren get past being stubbornly unwilling to deal with computers — only to find herself staying up to keep using it for, no really, just five minutes more, this time that’s a promise.
Altogether it’s a fun book and a classic in the genre, and I’m delighted there are sequels to check out.
Version read for review:
Scoppettone, Sandra. Everything You Have Is Mine. 1991. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992. Print.