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Love Ruins Everything

by Karen X. Tulchinsky

Nomi Rabinovitch is heartbroken and furious when her lover Sapphire leaves her for a man. She storms out of their shared apartment and after a moment of lost puppy dismay in the gay heart of San Francisco, moves to the couch of her great gal pal Betty in Bernal Heights. From that couch she navigates an agonizing break-up, and fields a constant battery of phone calls from her mother in Toronto, which culminate in her mother’s marriage announcement.

There is a remarkably sweet innocence to Love Ruins Everything, a first novel by Vancouver writer Karen X. Tulchinsky, that no straight novel in this day and age could ever dream of, given the sordid history of heterosexual literary romance. Nomi’s heartbreak has a purity to it that is palpable. Sapphire’s betrayal is utter betrayal on an operatic scale. Nomi contemplates suicide in a narrative voice that takes the lesbian camp to new and hilarious heights. All quite delightful in spite of a sometimes annoying litany of hip queer San Francisco hotspots that Nomi, a tough but sweet James Dean, cruises through on her red Honda Rebel.

It is hard to separate what troubles this novel from what gives it its charm. With the clean shape of an American classic, its characters, settings, and emotions are iconographic with a twist – a queer twist that leaves a lovely tang in the mouth when it succeeds, but irritates like a scratchy wool sweater when it does not. Littered with American movies, from Moonstruck to The Wizard of Oz, the novel seems to have gleaned from them a campy naiveté.

Although some of the characters, particularly Nomi’s mother, struggle to be more than caricatures, the novel is rescued from the dangers of turning into a lesbian fashion magazine by Nomi’s sudden return to Toronto for her mother’s wedding preparations. Through an old acquaintance turned love-interest, Julie Sakamoto, Nomi reconnects with her cousin Henry, an HIV-positive gay man who has recently been bashed. Henry is an activist involved in an attempt to expose a theory that the CIA deliberately manufactured HIV and injected it into unsuspecting gay men during the New York City Hepatitis Vaccine Trials of the late 1970s. While Henry and theory-originator Dr. Albert Maxwell work to get the theory published, Nomi and Julie fall in love.

Henry’s first-person voice, introduced late in the novel, jars at first, and the publishing of the theory unfolds too easily. But the irony of lesbians sexing it up against a backdrop of gay male activism, a complete reversal of stereotypes, is not lost. Not that Nomi and Julie are without political consciousness, but it’s a pleasure to see that consciousness played out over the course of their relationships with parents, siblings, and friends with an ease and humour that I think signifies a coming of age.


Reviewer: Larissa Lai

Publisher: Press Gang


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 280 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88974-082-8

Released: Feb.

Issue Date: 1998-3

Categories: Fiction: Novels