Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

Bloomsbury, 2009     ISBN: 1599903334

Shawna’s mother, Penny, left the family ten years ago to move in with Fran, and neither Shawna, nor her father, has been able to accept her lesbianism. Needless to say, visits to her mother never went well, and finally Shawna tells her mother that she doesn’t want to see her anymore.

When Shawna gets a call from Fran that her mother has had a stroke and isn’t going to make it, Shawna knows she needs to go see her. She is as resentful as ever of Fran, and her two sons, who know and love her mother in a way that she has been unable and unwilling to do.

What follows is the nightmare of any lgbt person estranged from his or her family: Shawna’s father moves in swiftly, wielding a medical power of attorney that her mother created when she was pregnant with her seventeen years before, and never revoked, and has her removed from life support. Ignoring the fact that she was in the process of converting to Judaism, he arranges a Catholic burial. And because Shawna’s mother has never redone her will, everything goes to her father, leaving Fran with so little that she is forced to sell her share of the home they shared and move from New York to Cleveland to live with an aunt.

Shawna’s father is not satisfied to stop there, but gets a court order to have Fran’s youngest son’s DNA checked, and finds out that he is not Fran’s, but his and Penny’s. When he goes to court and gets custody of the boy, with no visitation for Fran, Schmule, or Samuel, as her father insists on calling him, begins to show signs of suicidal intent. Shawna recognizes the seriousness of the situation, finally takes action against her domineering father, and begins to seriously deal with her own homophobia.

If at times it seems as if one more added action of her father’s will move this novel into the realm of melodrama, the writing carries it through, leaving Shawna’s father’s final capitulation as the only flawed note.


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