North Beach Girl by John Trinian. Fawcett Gold Medal (1960), 176 pp.
Sometime model Erin Howard hasn’t found a comfortable spot for herself in San Francisco’s beat community. She has no talent, doesn’t like to work and takes little interest in anything. Mostly she just hangs around, drinking heavily and relying on the largesse of her roommate and girlfriend, tough gallery owner Bruno Snider. Marian and Lilly, another lesbian couple, stay with them. When Erin draws the attention of Riley, a broke but brilliant painter, she can’t work out a response to him. Bruno, however, wants him gone. Meanwhile, Erin continues to ignore her beloved and wealthy grandmother, who lives in a nearby mansion with Old Hibbert, the family retainer. When the woman becomes ill and Riley refuses to disappear, Erin’s life begins to move in new directions.
This novel appeared during the high tide of “lesbian pulp,” when paperback publishers cashed in on daring stories of unsanctioned sex. The books offered excitement and information without actually advocating homosexuality. North Beach Girl presents conventional ideas in a sophisticated way. One is that lesbian relationships are defined by the femme and butch roles. The author furnishes two versions. Erin and Bruno share some genuine affection, while Marian and Lilly are bound merely by sadomasochism. Another common idea, accepted by psychiatrists of the time, is that the more submissive partner might be readily lured into heterosexuality. Here Riley presents that temptation, though his prospects as anyone’s steady boyfriend seem dim. The author, whose real name was Zekial Marko, also presents a balanced view of North Beach. From the outside it’s galleries and street fairs; from the inside it’s drunks and deadbeats. Although the plot eventually drifts into implausibility, the book might still find an audience among historically minded readers.