Bellerose, Sally. “Fishwives”,Bywater Books, 2021.
A Life Together
Sally Bellerose’s “Fishwives” is a long awaited treat. We meet eighty-nine-year-old Regina and ninety-year-old Jackie who met in 1955, a time much unlike our own for women who love each other. One cold winter day they decide to leave the house and are helped in doing so by “TJ and Ramon, two young men from their working-class neighborhood in Western Massachusetts.” They want to take their dead to the dump. Little do they know that everything will change that day, a day of memories from the past and reflection on the way the LGBTQ community lives today.
Regina and Jackie revisit their past and their feelings for one another and we see that, like our history, it has not always been easy. Through their reverie, we see ourselves and our movement face change and liberation against the backdrop of the politics of this country. As the two women remember, we see their passion and devotion for each other and we also see that they are at that point in time where change occurs. I loved reading about the first time they met and Regina’s realization that she could find love in another woman. Because of the times, their romance was lived secretly. They could not live together but always found ways to be together.
As Regina and Jackie relive their lives through memories, we are there with them. We meet their friends as we see things the way they experienced life. They remember the small details of the good and the bad times they shared and as they age, we age with them. That does not mean you have to have passed a certain point in your life to enjoy this read but rather that there are happenings yet to come. What is important here is the sharing of lives and coping with the changes that aging brings. They have loved each other and this is what really defines their relationship. We remember that love also means regrets, mistakes and pain as well as happiness and joy.
Sally Bellerose is a wonderful writer who sees life as it is showing us that the definition of love is almost the same as the definition of life. We all go through so much together yet we often let the hard times slide from memory without understanding that they are also a part of who we are. She shares the experiences of the passage of time through her two main characters who, for me, in effect, represent what so many of us realize as we move from young to old. She writes with the sensitivity of someone who has been there yet I know she has not yet reached that point in her life. It is her awareness of what is to come that allows her to give us two such characters. As she explores the lives of Regina and Jackie, we explore our own lives and the ways we have lived.
I have been waiting for this book for what seems like a long time. I met Sally ten years ago after I reviewed her earlier novel “The Girls Club” and was immediately taken I by her warmth and the good feelings coming from her. I had no idea it would take so much time to get to read “Fishwives” especially after reading her short story that grew into this book. It was well worth the wait.