Ann Bannon’s The Marriage

I just finished reading Ann Bannon’s 1960 novel The Marriage. It is the only one of her novels that is not a part of the excellent Beebo Brinker series of lesbian pulp fiction. However, two characters from the series, Laura Landon and Jack Mann, play a major role in it, and it takes place just after the events in the series conclude (note that the last book written in the series, Beebo Brinker, was not published until 1962, but portrays the earliest chronological events in the series).

The novel is the story of a heterosexual couple, Page and Sunny, who fall madly in love and get married, only to find out that they are actually brother and sister–Page was given away at birth by their parents and does not find out his true identity until after Sunny is pregnant with their child. The couple are divided about what to do about this incest, as Page believes they should never see each other again and Sunny believes that they should stay together because they love each other and did not intentionally flaunt what she views as an arbitrary taboo. Most of the novel is devoted to their struggle to resolve this conflict, which results in some razor-sharp, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque arguments (Page even cuts part of his left pinky off to prove his bravery when Sunny accuses him of cowardice!).

The couple finally agrees to keep their baby and stay together in a neo-Naturalist scene at the end of the novel, which at first seems absured and overwrought, but upon further consideration is a profound argument in favor of the sexual Other. Sunny has gone from New York to California to be away from the stress that Page is causing her because it is endangering the baby. He tracks her down, and they are driving back east along Route 66 when they decide to do some sight-seeing in the Nevada desert and, of course, get lost (side note: Fictional road trips from the pre-interstate era are so fascinating! It would be impossible for the couple to get lost off-road if they were driving now, but back then, as in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, the rural landscape is still barely touched by pavement, and thus defeats them easily.) They spend nearly two days in the desert sun without food or water before they are rescued, and it takes this isolation from society for Page to realize that all sexual mores are mere constructions. He finally understands Sunny’s point that it is only their love that matters, and the book ends happily.

The Marriage is certainly not pro-incest (side note two: It is interesting to compare The Marriage‘s attempt to minimize incest’s scandalousness with the fetishization of incest in contemporary “girl-on-girl” pornography directed at heterosexual males, which often portrays mother-daughter or sister-sister relationships, apparently in order to add an extra level of taboo to the already heteronormatively “illicit” nature of [pseudo-]lesbian sex): it is clear that the only reason Sunny and Page are allowed to stay together is because their incest was accidental, and since they have already had sex it is not as though their mistake will be exacerbated by further relations. The point of the novel is really to advocate for more sexual openness in general. When Page tells Jack about what he and Sunny have discovered, Jack tries to comfort Page by revealing his homosexuality in order to show Page that people whom society designates as sexually Other are not the horrific caricatures society paints them as; they are instead “normal” people. This is why The Marriage is valuable, and is still worth reading in the ridiculously sexually-backward travesty that is contemporary America. While it is not as well-written as most of the Beebo Brinker series, and has been marginalized because of its inclusion of incest (it is only available in a badly-produced Olympia Press edition alongside another pulp novel about incest, Theodora Keogh’s Gemini [I haven’t read Gemini yet because I bought the book for The Marriage since I am a big Bannon fan, but judging from the blurb it apparently is pro-incest. If this is the case, The Marriage‘s value is even further obscured due to this pairing.], whereas the Beebo Brinker books are currently in print in a lovely edition from one of the best/most important queer publishers out there, Cleis Press), it still has lessons to teach, and is worth reading as a part of Bannon’s important oeuvre.

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