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BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Wild and Precious Life’

A memoir by late LGBTQ civil-rights icon Edie Windsor.

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A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir
• by Edie Windsor
with Joshua Lyon
• 2019
• St. Martin’s Press
(us.macmillan.com)
• 274 pages
• $27.99/$37.99 Canada

There’s a long line of people behind you. Some are afraid to be seen, to speak up, or to show up. Others don’t want to get involved, so they’re sitting this one out. One thing, though: they’re all watching to see what you do next, because, as in the new memoir A Wild and Precious Life by the late marriage-equality warrior Edie Windsor and co-author Joshua Lyon, someone’s got to be first.

There was never any doubt that little Edie Schlain was fiercely adored. The youngest child of the family, Edie grew up wanting to be like her big sister, protected by her big brother, and the apple of her parents’ eyes. She admits that she was “spoiled” then—not in a bad way, but just enough to give her the confidence and brass a child of the Depression might need.

She remembered the beginning of World War II, although not in the sense that most did: her recollections were of a houseful of boys, her brother’s friends, laughing and eating and gathering in her parents’ home before going off to war, and mourning when word arrived about those who’d never come home. Edie always liked boys, and as she matured she bantered with her brother’s friends, although she occasionally thought it odd how much she liked watching other girls.

“The idea that anything physically intimate with a girl could happen simply did not exist,” she said.

But eventually it did—first with a tennis partner in college, and then with a female roommate she loved. And then she came to realize that there was “no other available reality” in the 1950s than to fall into lockstep with other young women by settling down and marrying a nice man.

The marriage lasted six months.

At the end, Edie, who’d convinced her husband to adopt the surname Windsor, realized that she needed to tell him the truth. Pondering how to tell him, she immersed herself in Judy Garland “fantasy” musicals, planning lines such as Guess what, Judy? I’m a lesbian.

“If you’re looking to read about Edie’s Supreme Court case, put this down,” says co-author Joshua Lyon in his preface. But don’t be too hasty: A Wild and Precious Life has plenty to offer, all by itself.

Indeed, though he still touches on the Supreme Court fight that helped achieve nationwide LGBTQ marriage equality, Lyon says that Windsor “desperately wanted” readers to know about her pioneering work in computers and technology, which was a “core part of her identity” and of which she was enormously proud. In her own words (which Lyon indicates that she edited), Windsor also woos readers with breezy wit, racy love stories, and seemingly casual-not-casual, semi-nonchalant depictions of being a lesbian in the mid-20th century, telling us what it was like living in the shadows but flirting hard with the light.

Early in this book, Lyon says he fretted about how to finish it after Windsor’s death. He needn’t have worried. Though its ending feels a little rushed, A Wild and Precious Life flows perfectly and entertains delightfully, making it a book you’ll want in front of you.

This article appears in the November 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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