“Dot & Ralfie: A Novel” is a lesbian “Honeymooners” episode, only much sweeter

Book cover of "Dot and Ralfie" by Amy Hoffman
Book cover of "Dot and Ralfie" by Amy Hoffman

Out Book Review

There is one alternative to growing older.

Never mind, though, it’s not on your radar. You’re more focused these days on not groaning when you get up each morning, and keeping your joints oiled enough to work. Years don’t really mean much when you’ve got places to go and people to see before that alternative happens but in the new novel Dot & Ralfie by Amy Hoffman, keep one eye on that calendar…

Neither Dot nor Ralfie could agree on how they met, except that it was back when good lesbian bars still existed, before the internet. Dot recalled, but Ralfie denied, that they met over a pool game and Ralfie wandered away. They both remember a cocktail party when Ralfie first took Dot home with her.

These days, though, “home” is a third-floor walk-up in a Boston neighborhood. It’s been a great place and Dot & Ralfie like the neighbors and all, but Dot’s sixty-eight and Ralfie’s over 70 and three floors of steps are a problem. A big problem, especially when you’ve had knee surgery like Ralfie’s had. Especially when you’ve had a teensy little heart attack and walking makes you winded, as it does Dot.

And so, Dot’s sister, Susan, has been pushing Dot and Ralfie to move to a senior living complex, which Ralfie refers to as Maple Grave because that’s what’s next, isn’t it?  Yeah, and Susan is so determined to have Ralfie and Dot move into senior housing that she buys a way-off-the-beaten-path Maple Grave apartment of her own, for her and her lover, Germaine.

But Germaine’s not happy: she’s more than a decade younger than Susan and besides, she’d miss her friends back in the city, just as Ralfie would miss the guys at her job at the DPW. And Dot would miss the kids at the school library where she worked. And it would be such a hassle for Dot to see the older librarian that she had a little affair with not long ago. Viola was ailing, and needed Dot’s help.

Still, those stairs. What was the next step?

The meme is correct: Old Age Ain’t for Sissies. But what are ya gonna do about it? You’re gonna read Dot & Ralfie, that’s what.

That’s because this is an adorable book. It’s funny in all the right parts, good-naturedly grumpy where it needs to be, and wonderfully, wryly sarcastic, but author Amy Hoffman also nudges her readers to think about their own futures and what each might entail. Who will care for us when we only have similarly-aged friends to rely on?

To soften the soberness of that question, Hoffman gives readers a handful of very charming characters that fuss at one another, argue, make up, scheme, and fuss some more. It’s a little like a lesbian Honeymooners episode, only much sweeter and better.

There aren’t a lot of novels specific to lesbian seniors who want something reflective of their lives so seek out Dot & Ralfie. If you’re tired of the usual literature, it’s the perfect alternative.

Dot & Ralfie: A Novel by Amy Hoffman, c.2022, University of Wisconsin Press,  $16.95, 147 pages