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review 2017-03-11 20:24
Black Wave, Michelle Tea
Black Wave - Michelle Tea

The more I read (and watch movies and TV), the more I value encountering something unlike anything else I ever have before. Black Wave, by Michelle Tea, immersed me in a world new to me in several ways.

 

Though there are occasionally individual queer characters in the books I read, I haven't read much queer lit where a larger community is represented, especially queer women. Black Wave is set in San Francisco in the 90s at the start, an alternative past where gentrification has strangled most of the culture(s) from the city. In addition, the world appears to be ending due to advanced climate change: it's dangerous to be out in the sun even incidentally, the ocean is a trash wave, many animals are extinct, and invasive species have overtaken the dying native flora. In other words, the environment's death mirrors a cultural and, as is soon apparent, a personal one.

 

The protagonist, Michelle (like the author), is in her later twenties, and is the kind of addict who tells herself she's not because she doesn't shoot heroin but snorts it and is able to keep her job at a bookstore. She falls in love (or becomes infatuated) easily and hooks up with many of the women who come into her orbit, despite being in a "steady" relationship with a partner more stable than she is. At one point the point of view shifts from Michelle's to her girlfriend's, who thinks she's a sociopath.

 

That feels pretty accurate, but one of the amazing things about Black Wave is that despite Michelle's objectively unlikable character, I still felt very much invested in her. In part this is due to the humor and energy of the writing. For example:

 

Michelle seemed more like some sort of compulsively rutting land mammal, a chimera of dog in heat and black widow, a sex fiend that kills its mate. Or else she was merely a sociopath. She was like the android from Blade Runner who didn’t know it was bad to torture a tortoise. She had flipped [her girlfriend] Andy onto her belly in the Armageddon sun and left her there, fins flapping.

 

I may also personally respond to Michelle because she's a writer, one who's even published and had a sort of local fame. Around the midpoint of the book when she moves to L.A., the narrative is deconstructed as she attempts to write a new book. It becomes clear that not everything we've read so far is as it happened. Another aspect I liked is that somehow this sudden shift doesn't feel like a trick as can happen in many modernist and post-modernist writing and metafiction. How and why I don't know, but after some minor readjustment on my part as a reader, I was still invested.

 

I've often noted what a structure fanatic I am, and the last major selling point of Black Wave is the way it beautifully spins out in the last third.

 

Tangents were Michelle’s favorite part of writing, each one a declaration of agency: I know I was going over there but now I’m going over here, don’t be so uptight about it, just come along. A tangent was a fuckup, a teenage runaway. It was a road trip with a full tank of gas. You can’t get lost if you don’t have anywhere to be. This was writing for Michelle: rule free, glorious, sprawling.

 

As the world ends, people begin dreaming vividly and lucidly about others who exist in the real world, all over the world. They're dreams of connection and love where identity is fluid, and some begin living in them, like Michelle's bosses at the bookstore who hand over the business to her. So the world ends, but somehow Michelle's in a good place, and so was I.

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review 2017-02-05 17:54
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis
American Housewife: Stories - Helen Ellis

My first thoroughly enjoyable read of the year. Despite never having been a housewife (or wife, period) myself, I felt like this short story collection's ideal audience. There are plenty of films and books that cover similar ground--the details, drudgery, absurdity, and even darkness of being a housewife--but Ellis manages to make the content fresh through voice and form.

 

All the stories made me laugh out loud or grin sardonically, from the first, brief portrait of a modern housewife, to the email exchange between two passive aggressive--and then just aggressive--ladies occupying the same building (my favorite), to the Dumpster Diving with the Stars reality show. Some stories, like the first, are flash fiction and read like prose poems to me. Others are fuller, like the ending story about contemporary novel writing in the age of sponsorship and social media. In that story and others, the horror of aspects of our culture becomes real.

 

Satisfying and sharp-tongued (without looking down on its characters), this collection completely won me over from the start.

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text 2014-05-14 20:33
Three words for June grads...

(Excerpt from "Three words for June grads who want a career in writing")

 

pubper

The number of new book titles released each year has more than doubled over the past decade. Agents and publishers are becoming dinosaurs as writers take their materials directly to the public.

 

The gates are open. No longer does an author need to struggle with a critical editor or deal with a lengthy and arduous print publishing cycle.

 

Well that’s fine, but the new digital world has also put a lot more pressure on fiction writers to write stuff they would probably prefer not to, like blogs and social network posts.

 

The prevailing wisdom from internet marketing gurus is that an author needs to have a blog and post at least 250-300 words twice a day on weekdays and once on weekends. That is over 3,000 words a week or approximately five to six typed pages of fresh, insightful, interesting and eye-catching new material. Considering that the average novel runs between 70,000 and 120,000 words…click, click, click on the calculator….writing a blog would be the equivalent of cranking out a new novel every three to six weeks. It’s exhausting just to think about.

 

Of course just putting words out on the internet is no guarantee that anyone will read them, or be interested enough to spend actual money to read the author’s books. So, in addition to blogging, the publishing pundits also recommend putting pithy posts pertaining to particulars on at least a half-dozen social networks as well. Turning again to our trusty digital calculator…click, click, click….that now puts said author into the equivalent of a six-day work week with no salary, benefits or paid holidays.

 

If authors really wanted to live that way they could apply to work at…wait, we don’t want a libel suit, so suffice it to say that kind of lifestyle is probably not what most writers aspire to.

 

So, for any bright, new graduates who seek to make a career of writing, always remember these three words: be a doctor.

 

Source: ricktownley.com/2014/05/14/three-words-for-june-grads-who-want-a-career-in-writing
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