“On Loving Women”: it sounds like a treatise. But Diane Obomsawin does not deliver the usual tome with this intimately illustrated collection of coming out stories, nor does she intend to. In contrast to similarly named philosophical texts such as Aristotle’s On the Soul or Arthur Schopenhaur’s infamous On Women, On Loving Women presents ten vignettes of first love without explanation or elaboration: they are whole ideas, answers unto themselves. And they are utterly delightful to read.
Obomsawin begins each short narrative in On Loving Women with the speaker’s name and a single- or double-panel snapshot of her in her natural habitat: in a chair with a drink or dressed as Zorro, sword and all. For one speaker, Catherine, Obomsawin forgoes props to highlight her big, awkward eyes. These introductions could have easily verged into the expected, but Obomsawin ensures that her readers have an added layer of complexity to work through: all of her speakers, from start to end, are animals. Mice, birds, bulls, pigs – at times, discerning one breed from another proves difficult. Obomsawin’s minimal lines accommodate similarities between the speakers as opposed to singularities. Even readers can project themselves into their knee-less legs, rectangular torsos, and elbow-less arms.
This invitation to identify, powerful in many mediums, strikes an especially tender note in the context of what many might consider a realm of sexual difference. Never does Obomsawin exclude a reader who might not participate in loving women; ultimately, the text is as much about loving as it is about women. Just as readers are welcomed to occupy each speaker’s body, they are welcomed to experience the pain, the thrill, and the vulnerability of first love with them. “Candid” does not properly characterize the language of On Loving Women; each narration has the texture of a night at the bar with friends: deliciously unapologetic, a little bit gritty, and, at times, peaked with unspoken sadness. We swing from learning about Marie, who had to move away and sell her horse after her parents discovered her sexuality, to the endearingly sentimental Diane, who is always in love because “it gave [her] a reason to go to school.” And, like a rowdy night with friends, we are privy to details of sexual encounters – some in the key of “making love,” others beginning: “We got seriously wasted.”
Most striking, Obomsawin decidedly invokes a risky medium to enrich the honesty of her narrators’ voices: the cliché. And even more, she does so un-ironically. Phrases such as “It was love at first sight” and “It hit me like a thunderbolt” stand alone without the usual protective coating of self-deprecation. Obomsawin resists the urge to portray romantic euphoria as an object to be broken down and studied. Her treatment is anti-philosophical: she gives young love the space to breathe its long, dramatic sighs. Each individual story is numbered with its own set of pages, raising its contents to the status of a novella. Obomsawin’s On Loving Women, in all of its empathy and vulnerability, is a solvent against sarcasm. To every reader who has been in love, if even for a moment, her work confirms this: if it meant the world at the time, it should mean the world in your memory.