“You’re going to go into that final trial date in drag,” the famed Stormé DeLarverie tells Alice Anderson late in her memoir, Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away. “You gonna go as the most upright, pretty, perfectly Southern Republican mama they ever fuckin’ seen. And you gonna to play that part like you know how to play it, the best you’ve ever played it.”
It’s the first time in the book that dressing up and playing a part has been called what it is, but drag is all Anderson has been doing since its first pages. She buries the trauma she suffered at her father’s hands under the façade of a good daughter. She clothes herself as a model in Paris. She masks herself as a perfect wife to her terror of a husband. All of these identities are drag, and they serve as a wire that runs through the book, tensing until it snaps. Continue reading
In an interview with a European journalist at the height of Nirvana’s fame, Kurt Cobain, in response to a question about his generation’s mythic indifference, offered instead an assured defense of punk rock and the vagaries of taste. “Punk rock should mean freedom, liking and accepting anything that you like, and playing anything you want, as sloppy as you want. As long as it’s good and it has passion.” This has always been my approach to reading. So I didn’t hesitate to put down Moby Dick (you could say I preferred not to finish it) and pick up the latest offering from Brontez Purnell, the Bay Area’s hardest working underground artist.
“Mord destroyed and reimagined our broken city for reasons known only to him, yet he also replenished it in his thoughtless way.” So thinks Rachel, the protagonist of Borne, as she climbs the side of Mord, a giant bear, braving his “ropy, dirt-bathed fur, foul with carrion and chemicals” in search of food or biotech treasure that’s stuck to him. Those are the thoughtless replenishments he provides. Instead, she finds a fist-sized organism that resembles a sea anemone. She takes it back to the crumbling apartment building where she lives, deciding on the way home that it’s a he and its name is Borne. Her partner and lover, Wick, is unhappy about Borne’s presence—an outcast biotech scientist, Wick recognizes a threat when he sees one—but he grudgingly allows what he’s powerless to stop. Borne already has a hold on Rachel’s heart. Continue reading
Kristen Radtke’s meditative graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This ruminates on ruin and decay—of an abandoned city, of a genetically faulty heart, of love and relationships, and, in the long run, of all things. Through black-and-white images with stark juxtapositions, Radtke braids together the death of her favorite uncle, Dan, the end of her engagement to her college boyfriend, her travels to various ruins around the world, and her own struggle to find a home somewhere that isn’t in the process of deteriorating.
George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, reads like confetti, like fireworks, like a snowstorm. This novel, like an image made of pixels, is a collage of intricate individual parts that, taken together, create the dazzling swirl and pulse of tenuous coherence.
Allow me to literalize: it is a story told in snatches by dozens of different narrators, most of whom are dead and dwelling in the “bardo” (a Buddhist term for the transitional state between life and death) of a crypt in Georgetown. As in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the novel’s clearest intertext, souls are punished according to their sins—one sexually frustrated man sports a massively engorged member because he was never able to consummate his marriage. Death, heaven, and intermediate states have long been a fascination for Saunders, explored in stories like “Escape From Spiderhead,” “Sea Oak,” and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.” In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders looses his ghosts on the graveyard to shuffle through their danse macabre. Continue reading
The plot of Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell is easy to summarize. A woman learns that her only brother has committed suicide, so she returns home to figure out, detective-like, why he did it.
But that summary doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the trippy, engrossing sensation of reading this book. Cottrell’s narrator, Helen Moran, is one of the most paradoxical and unforgettable creations in recent literature—a clever observer of people who mangles every social interaction, a rigid follower of rules who casually gives drugs to children, an exuberantly verbal thinker who rarely speaks. Her uniquely warped point of view is the second mystery that this hilarious and devastating novel invites readers to unravel. Continue reading