The lovely ariana_reads won a Q&A with author Susie Dumond in the Romance for Maui auction. I was invited to join, so I read her debut book, Queerly Beloved, and set my alarm for early Saturday morning. I enjoyed both the book and the Q&A. It was interesting to hear Dumond talk about why she fought to keep her story set in 2014-2015, and the importance of telling queer stories set in the flyover states. As much as I enjoyed the book, it was listening to her answer questions and talk with us about writing that sold me on reading her next two books, Looking for a Sign, which comes out in 2024, and an untitled third book.
Queerly Beloved is more about Amy growing up and becoming more confidently herself than it is about Amy and Charlie’s romance. Amy is a young, semi-out lesbian, born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At 25 she is out of the closet to most of her Southern Baptist family and when she bartends at the queer bar, Ruby Red. She masquerades as Amelia, the nice straight women when she works at Tulsa’s best bakery, Daily Bread. She lives in constant fear of being outed at work knowing that the owner is devoutly Christian and proudly intolerant.
Early in the book we learn that Amy has always loved weddings and that her extended family barely tolerates her now that she’s out. While shoved into a dark corner at her cousin’s wedding, she meets a couple who are about to get married. As they bond over sneaking alcohol into a dry wedding, the soon to be bride asks Amy to step in as a bridesmaid for hire. Thus a new career is born, and just in time because she does get fired from the bakery for being gay.
Dumond’s choice to set Queerly Beloved before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v Hodges is deliberate, and one she had to fight for. Amy starts a Bridesmaid for Hire business, which brings the issue of marriage equality to the forefront for her. She enjoys weddings and she’s good at handling the problems that arise before they become crises. But, she is also very aware that as things stand in 2014, she does not have the right to get married, and neither do her friends. In talking with her friends, the uneasiness around the marriage equality fight within the queer community is articulated: some of the elders who lived through the AIDS crisis see marriage equality as necessary for the legal footing to act on behalf of their partners, while other members within the community are worried about the pressure to conform to heteronormative expectations. I remember these exact conversations happening in the 1990s.
As a bridesmaid for hire, Amy feels like she needs to hide who she loves and this chafes as she falls more in love with Charlie. Amy’s people pleasing gets in the way of Amy fully living her life. One of the things that I thought Susie Dumond got exactly right is the selfishness that is a side effect of being a people pleaser. Amy is a people pleaser both because that’s how Southern girls are socialized and as a way to keep her queer self safe in a place where queerness is officially not tolerated. People pleasing is about changing yourself to fit in, not about being aware of what other people need, so she hides pieces of herself in hopes that she will be accepted by Charlie, but then makes everything about herself when she’s with people with whom she feels safe. Yeah, I still struggle with that.
The weakest part of the book is the lack of Charlie. Charlie is a wonderful character, dapper and confident. But we don’t get enough of her in the story. Dumond did do a fantastic job of portraying the closeness and vibrancy of flyover state queer communities.
CW: parent in remission from cancer, sibling with past addiction issues, homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, financial anxiety, casual racism from side character, family estrangement, on page drunkenness, hangovers, almost friend break-up.