The long, wondrous life of a mostly closeted Texas lesbian, from teenage years in the kitchen at the men's prison to old age in a trailer off RR 23, with the 20th century rolling by in the background. "My first workday at the Imperial State Prison Farm for men was February 8, 1923." When we meet Miss Dara, she has traveled from her home in West Texas all the way to a prison on the outskirts of a steamy, smelly little town called Sugar Land, near Houston. She is hoping to escape the fallout of her passionate love affair with a girl named Rhodie who comes in to buy eggs at the egg store where Dara works—"how could I not love a girl with a butterfly scarf and a bow with no arrows?" At the prison, Dara meets several characters who will greatly influence her life: the horrible and predatory head cook; a mustachioed co-worker named Beauregard; the Warden, a decent man who will play an unexpectedly large role in Dara's future; and a talented if violent prisoner named Huddie. Huddie Ledbetter turns out to be the real-life musician Lead Belly, who actually was pardoned by the governor for his singing. From these beginnings, the story takes many delightful twists and turns, always described succinctly and colorfully by this narrator, who is irresistible even on days when she's "retaining enough water to grow rice in Arizona." By the end of it, she comes to believe "that each and every life has the number of trials it is destined to have, and if you take one away, another one fills its place….No life is easy and no life is hard; it's just what adjectives you choose to use to describe it." Dara's story is a postcard of small-town Texas life from Prohibition through civil rights, tracing the treatment and awareness of gay people through these decades.
The love child of Fannie Flagg and Rita Mae Brown, Stoner is sure to win her own devoted following with this ravishing debut.