This article offers a comparative analysis of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, and Todd Haynes’s 2015 film adaptation, Carol, to bear witness to the often-overlooked history of pre-Stonewall queer parenthood and to imagine a more radical future of queer kinship. My reading illuminates how the textual strategies of metaphorical substitution and narrative replacement used to imagine postwar lesbian romance consequently render lesbian motherhood and queer desire as seemingly incommensurable. In the core narrative present in both texts, the arc of lesbian romance is portrayed in and against parent-child bonds, while the employment of a mother-daughter erotic reinscribes racial and gender norms. In contrast to Highsmith’s pulp novel, which eventually satirizes the mother-daughter bond in its camp machinations, Haynes’s lyric period film inspires feelings of grief for Carol’s maternal losses and asks audiences to enter into a melancholic relationship to the absent presence of queer parenthood. Reading these texts against their grain of white neoliberalism, the essay thus calls for a reimagining of the pleasures and necessities of child rearing in diverse queer communities today, arguing that contemporary queer culture’s radical resistance of white supremacy must incorporate the fight to protect and celebrate all forms of LGBTQ family formation.
Jenny M. James; Maternal Failures, Queer Futures: Reading The Price of Salt (1952) and Carol (2015) against Their Grain. GLQ 1 June 2018; 24 (2-3): 291–314. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-4324825
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