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I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes

Disturbed By Her Song  (Esther Gerber, volume 3)

By Tanith Lee 

25 Nov, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee


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2010’s Disturbed By Her Song is the second of Tanith Lee’s Garber collections (the third work including the novel 34.). Unlike Fatal Women, in which Lee adopted the persona of Jewish lesbian Esther Garber, in this Lee plays at being both Esther and Esther’s half-brother, the half-Arab, half Jew, entirely gay Judas. 

Meeting the Garbers:

Lee discusses her two literary personae, treating them as if they were real people.


Maybe it’s just the current political context in which I am reading this work, but passages like this one

Now, she shows her ethnicity – presumably mostly Jewish; this less in her (excellent) pale complexion, grey eyes and lush, wavy dark brown hair (not a hint of grey in that) than in a sort of antique-coin type arrangement of her profile. Semitic she is. Judas, too, of course. He is besides a seemingly wonderful equality of half Jew and half Arab, with the definite resultant beauty. 

are rather off-putting. Lee treats the Garbers (or Garbahs, depending on their whim) as exotically attractive, inherently alien Others. There’s a thread running through the book about how being Jewish means the person in question is always outside proper society, even if they are allowed to visit from time to time. Urk.

Black Eyed Susan” • [as by Esther Garber]

Taking a temporary position as a lowly servant in a poorly run hotel, Esther glimpses a beautiful young woman, a woman nobody on staff can or will identify. Esther becomes obsessed with her. The revelation of the young woman’s true identity will come too late.


It is a ghost story… of sorts.

The Kiss” • [as by Esther Garber]

A pretty young woman is begging an autograph from an actress; she attracts hostile attention from male onlookers. It is only after they are assured that the girl is acting on behalf of a man and not for herself that they allow her to go on her way. Without trying to rape the lesbian out of her.


Lee is in no sense subtle about the sort of men harassing the young woman:

I tell you,” said Clavier, I’ve noted her type before. Sluts who think they are a sort of man – and that they can get away with it. And not a decent bone in their perverted little bodies. Good for nothing. You heard her, eh, my men, you heard her, didn’t you?” He puffed up bigger, an erection of stern anger. Another mouth than yours,” he aped her loudly, if inaccurately, so all might hear, pressed over and over to your kiss.”
What a bitch,” someone said.
She deserves anything we might do to her,” said another.
Filthy little creature.”
Clavier pressed right in and stood large over the poor young girl.
You should be punished,” he said.

After she explains she is acting on behalf of her father:

For she was a proper woman, as God had made her, putting their sex before her own, serving her father despite her own timidity. What a wife she would make – what a mistress. 

What magnificent examples of manhood they are.

Alexandrians” • [as by Judas Garbah]

Judas Garbah reminisces over a boyhood encounter with an older gay man.


It’s probably best if nobody points this story out to Orson Scott Card. 

Death And The Maiden • [as by Esther Garber]

Infatuated with Vera, Ruth agrees to try to seduce Vera’s daughter Emerald. This is a bizarre plot to save the young woman from her father’s malign influence. Neither Vera or her chosen agent fully understand Emerald until it is far, far too late. 

Fleurs En Hiver” • [as by Judas Garbah]

Judas’ dinner companion takes it as a personal affront that an older, unattractive woman has the temerity to eat dinner in a fine restaurant. Judas, of course, sees in the older woman’s condition a foreshadowing of his own fate.


Judas’ pal is viciously critical of someone whose only sin is existing in line of sight. Judas needs to find better friends.

The Crow” • [as by Judas Garbah]

While his companion endures exquisite boredom, Judas’ more sympathetic approach to others allows him to experience a moment of genuine magic.

Disturbed By Her Song • [as by Esther Garber and Tanith Lee]

Georgina is smitten with Sula as soon as she sees her. Alas, infatuation is seldom mutual. Even more alas, it can last a lifetime.…

General comments

Judas’ friends, at least all of his gay friends, seem to be uniformly vain and shallow and to lead unsatisfactory lives. Esther’s stories, on the other hand, generally involve one-sided relationships. The moments of revelation in these stories are either dispiriting or authentically horrific. 

Disturbed by Her Song is available here.