"In 1970 I realized that the Sixties were passing me by. I had never even smoked a joint, or slept with anyone besides my husband. A year later I had left Nicky, changed my name from Ellen to Rain, and moved to a radical lesbian commune in California named Red Moon Rising, where I was playing the Ten of Hearts in an outdoor production of Alice in Wonderland when two FBI agents arrived to arrest the Red Queen . . ."
So begins Blanche McCrary Boyd's brilliantly raucous account of self-styled feminist outlaws, their desperate adventures and extraordinary fates. Ellen, the narrator of Boyd's previous novel, The Revolution of Little Girls, this time pierces the heart of the sexual revolution in her quest to find a woman hero or--by default--to become one.
Ferociously paced, Terminal Velocity delineates six wonderfully engaging characters: Artemis Foote, for whom being rich, talented, and beautiful is a kind of game; Jordan, a messianic fugitive who becomes Ellen's lover; Amethyst Woman, a Marxist/Leninist dentist; Ross, a red-diaper baby and now a columnist for Ramparts; and Pearl, an art history professor turned hippie. At the center of this vortex is Ellen, prior to her transformation happily married and a rising young editor at a genteel publishing house in Boston. Together with these women, she is caught in the political and moral tailspin of the Sixties, living in a sexualized world-without-boundaries that leads them, eventually, to destruction, acceptance, and even redemption.
Deadpan funny and exquisitely moving, Terminal Velocity brings Boyd's lyricism, humor, and depth to material largely unexplored in American literature.
Once again, Boyd (The Revolution of Little Girls, 1991, etc.) leads her intriguing characters through complex psychological, sexual, and philosophical mazes in this story of a clever southern belle turned radical lesbian, but the author fails to synthesize the parts of her story into a satisfying whole. Ellen Sommers has survived her typically wacko southern upper-class childhood to marry a nice boy from Harvard, land a good job at a small Boston publishing house, and greet the year 1970 with a hefty backlog of such trendy literary successes as Black Black Black and The Terminal Brassiere. But when beautiful artist/heiress Artemis Foote signs up to do an illustrated book, Ellen falls madly in love, follows Artemis back to her California commune, and soon divorces her husband and quits her editorial job. Unable to attach herself to Artemis, Ellen (who now calls herself "Rain") instead initiates an affair with Artemis's ex-lover, Jordan, who's on the run after having helped a boyfriend bomb a campus building and is in grief over having abandoned her daughter. When Jordan's whereabouts are discovered by the FBI, she and Rain flee cross-country until Jordan is apprehended and jailed. Rain goes into free-fall, staying for a while in a mental hospital and then moving to L.A., where she writes for TV and engages in cynical sex only affairs. Just as she begins to find her balance again, Jordan, newly released from prison, commits suicide. Ellen goes into free-fall once more, this time moving in with a suicidal ex-debutante in her hometown of Charleston. A final reunion with Artemis, now middle-aged, gives the two women a chance to reminisce about the passions of their youth. But despite Ellen's stubborn and sympathetic search for meaning in the random turns her life has taken, she remains as clueless as her readers. Boyd's talent for creating convincingly tangled psychological webs is undeniable, but her novels are as unshaped as life itself. (Kirkus Reviews)