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Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,573 ratings  ·  522 reviews
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms hi ...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published November 1st 2017 by Rescue Press
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Tim Jones-Yelvington DUH.

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Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read, usa
This book is wild and hypnotic and unusual - it defies categorization, thus staying true to its topic: Can people overcome the compulsion to categorize others? Set in 1993, our protagonist Paul Polydoris is a 22-year-old queer shapeshifter who - sometimes as Paul, sometimes as Polly - explores the gay scene in Iowa City and from there drifts to Boystown, Provincetown and finally to San Francisco. Wrapped in this surging tale full of sex and adventure, there is also a love story: Polly enters a r ...more
I wrote this as an introduction to Andrea's reading for the NYC book launch at Bureau of General Services--Queer Division, November 2017:

I first met Paul – the novel’s protagonist – in Philadelphia in 2005 or 2006, in one of my first workshops in Temple’s graduate creative writing program. It was a short story at that time and though, as a young still-presumably-straight person there was much I didn’t yet understand about the live queer world it captured, I remember being struck by Paul’s alive
Larry H
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars.

Sometimes I find myself lamenting that there are very few original stories out there anymore, that too many books seem too similar to one another. And then I read a book like Andrea Lawlor's Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl , and that lamentation flies out the window.

Holy crap.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is sexy, crazy, confusing, bizarre, funny, and one of the most utterly creative stories I've read in a really long time. I'm not sure if I unders
It's the early 90s, and Paul is a student and bartender immersed in the queer subculture of Iowa City. Paul is also a shapeshifter. He can switch genders (though he almost always thinks of himself as him); can make himself taller/shorter, more masculine/feminine, etc., at will.

Paul's story is an emotionally immersive journey. The first third of the book is relentlessly, almost exhaustingly, sexual, with Paul jumping continually between liaisons with both men and women, as both a man and a woman
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved, loved, loved this novel. A nostalgic trip back to the queer 90s wrapped up in a speculative temporal-space odyssey that inspires a meditation on gender, sex, identity, home, atmosphere, place, and love. Because what else is there?

I got to read the manuscript and can't wait to read it once it's published in November!
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book is such a perfect capture of various lgbtq+ communities in the United States in the 80s & 90s that I'd recommend it for that aspect alone. But the main character, who has the ability to shapeshift gender to move more easily within these spaces, really makes for a unique read. It's so hard to believe this is a debut novel because it feels so elegantly written (often about not so elegant topics!) I laughed a lot especially at the beginning.

This book came out 23 April 2019, but I did rec
lark benobi
This novel reminded me of two other contemporary novels, Black Wave by Michelle Tea (who blurbed this novel) and Heartland by Ana Simo, because all three challenged me in the same way.

All three are written in a careful-breezy style--by that I mean, the writing is quite careful, and in many instances beautiful and poetic, but the voice is crafted to give the impression of near-artlessness.

All three are also about social relationships that aren't within the heteronormative and/or cisgender exper
Holy shit. I read this in one giant gulp. Partway through a friend dropped by unexpectedly, and there I was standing in the hallway unable to speak coherently. She took one look at me and said, “whatever that book is, go back to it. It’s ok. I’ll see you later.” So I lay back down on the sofa, day turned to night and I did not do anything else until I’d finished it.

The funny thing is, it was one of those books where you’re unwillingly seduced. You’re thinking, huh, it’s good but maybe too dense
Eric Anderson
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The year 1993 was incredibly important for me personally as I was just becoming a teenager at that point and awkwardly figuring out my own identity. This is the year in which Andrea Lawlor’s wickedly funny and absorbing novel is set. Its story bears all the marks of that era with references to zines, mix tapes and an increasingly assertive queer population that enthusiastically formed tight-knit communities outside of mainstream heterosexual culture. So I felt a strong affinity toward Paul, the ...more
Morgan M. Page
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is described a lot as a sort of Gen X take on Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which is not entirely untrue, but I think it's more than that. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl captures the feeling of an era obsessed with shifting, ambiguous sexual and gender politics. A hit of nostalgia for those who lived it and a necessary bit of insight for those too young to remember. The book is a mix-tape - quite literally laying out what all the good music was for those who weren't there - gifted fr ...more
Inderjit Sanghera
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The androgynous lead character of the story is able to surreptitiously shape-shift and change their gender. In many ways the story is about an alternative version of Americana; one far removed from the zeitgeist of rosy-cheeked young girls and apple pies, but which is instead focused on outcasts and drudgery, on conversations about heteronormativity, Fassbender and Genet, one which has an almost Proustian prevalence of homosexual or bisexual characters, a novel steeped in sex and lumbered with l ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
fucking great.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this is now the third transgender novel I have read in 2019, which is a great sign that gay fiction is developing beyond the traditional coming-out, HIV-Aids, or romance tropes. Not that these aren’t important, but the quotation that “there are more things in heaven and Earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy” does spring to mind.

Also, gay and gender politics are a veritable minefield today. So, if one wants to know what a ‘lived’ experience is for a transgender person, for example
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: booktopia-2019
I'm going to be totally honest with you. I started this book and stopped. I'm not sure this book is for me. A bit steamy. But I kept going and I am so, so glad I did. This is a story about Paul working at a gay bar in Iowa City finishing up grad school and trying to find his way in the queer scene. He struggles with his identity and a secret - he is a shape shifter. He can change his body back and forth from male to female. He finds love, he finds friendships, he experiences loss and confusion. ...more
What a book! Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a powerful, explicit, surprisingly moving exploration of lust and love, sex and gender, as well as a nostalgic – but not rose-colored – look back at the queer scene(s) of the ‘90s.

Paul is a person who can change his body to take the form of a man or a woman – with some further alterations in physical composition within those two types – and who uses this to pursue a rich variety of sexual pleasures. He likes to think of himself as a predator,
Tim Jones-Yelvington
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
w/ its body shifting protagonist, most folks will likely interpret this through the lens of the malleability of gender, sex and identity. But I found myself thinking just as much if not moreso about queer lives/chronologies/trajectories/biographies as circuitous/interrupted/episodic, about the picaresque—with its rejection of heteronormative hero recognition, maturation and epiphany—as a queer form, and about my own affinity for Paul's compulsion to remain in a perpetual state of becoming, trans ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
I hated the first two thirds of this book but somehow felt compelled to keep reading and I'm genuinely glad I did; the last third of the novel was actually enjoyable!

PTTFOAMG frustrated me in a lot of ways. It was all tell, no show. Like Paul, this book was way too often annoyingly pleased with its cleverness when I didn't think it'd earned it. Much of the Paul/Polly stuff in the first two sections reinforced reductive gender stereotypes in really boring ways...which is even more irritating bec
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 90's queers, gender euphoric people
wow i really loved this! i like how i've read not one but TWO books this month that encapsulated the weird magical way i spent my queer youth, a way of life that seems so completely gone forever, but still exists in new forms. i felt like my friends and i had really created something unique--and maybe we did--but it's comforting to know that it was large enough that a fictional book written about someone a decade older than me rang so many bells. i'm glad that enough time has passed since that e ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think this might be the QUEEREST book I have ever read!! At some point in the first chapter I thought to myself "A straight person could never have written this," and I was delighted. Set in 1993, it starts in Iowa City where Paul is half-heartedly working on a film degree. Most though he is bartending, dressing up, flirting, and constantly on the prowl for potential conquests. One day he decides he want to try lesbian sex and so grows breasts, transforms his dick into a vagina, and goes to se ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every page of this PTTFOAMG sparkles with sly, clever wit and sharp insights, both sociological and psychological. The novel is delightfully free of the tediously tidy character arcs or contrived plot complications so common to middlebrow fiction these days; instead, readers are treated to an amusingly rakish protagonist's meandering adventures. In other words, it's a true picaresque. And speaking of the protag, Paul, the promo for the novel highlights his shape & gender shifting, but that's his ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul is mutable — not only, as he says, because he’s a Sagittarius, but because he is often switching jobs, interests, states and sex.

This is a hilarious read as it follows the happy-go-lucky, fun-seeking Paul through his jobs in gay bars and thrift stores, to his life as a woman in an all lesbian, vegetarian household, and on to the life he lives as a gay man working in an LGBT bookstore. Lawlor writes with such wit; they are an expert at storytelling.

But this book is also deeply moving; it l
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it
An odd, original tale of a shallow young gay man in the mid 90's who can also turn himself into a woman when he wants to. Tries to say a lot about gay culture at the time from the perspective of both sexes and doesn't quite succeed but it's never less than interesting and at times very humorous and smart.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I think it’s telling that I finished this novel over a month ago and I’m still haunted by how much I didn’t like it.
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
Usually books that meander and don't have a strong plot drive me crazy, but in this book it completely worked. It was super atmospheric, slice of life, and weird - kind of like a book version of a Sophia Coppola movie. I loved Paul as a character, loved the window the book gives into 90's queer culture, loved the way it makes you think about gender & sexuality & relationships. It took me a lot longer to get through than a book of this length typically does, but that's because I read it much more ...more
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adored this! Such a fun, tender, funny, and adventurous read, all the everyday wonders of queerness and some magic too.
Ed Erwin
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Explores many sides of queer life in the mid 1990s. Some pretty explicit sex; as far as I remember all was female-on-female or male-on-male, though Paul could change his body at will. (He was always called 'he' in the text even when in a female body.) I'm not sure there is any point to this story, and it just ends at some arbitrary point but that's OK. Probably will be enjoyed most by those who were into "Queer Studies" or "Theory" in the 90s. I liked it mostly for bringing up memories of my own ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love a good picaresque, and this one rang all my literary bells, including some bells I didn't know I had. In lesser hands, the shapeshifting premise of the book could have been just a gimmick and milked to death like a sitcom, but Lawlor does so much with it by downplaying its novelty and using it to look at gender in gay life from all kinds of angles. There are no overt philosophical, political or social explorations here - Paul/Polly is studiously shallow although minutely analytical about ...more
Esther King
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
I understand what this book was trying to do. Really, I do. Laden with queer culture references and an exploration of self through sexual and personal experimentation, I was really hopeful I’d get to enjoy it as a queer coming of age. However, I was let down. I wanted to feel more connected to the characters, but the lack of plot and characterisation didn’t do that for me. More positive and realistic queer representation is so, so necessary, so I praise the book on that count- self discovery is ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. Great concept, but largely unpleasant execution and it's not clear to me what exactly the central plot was supposed to be.
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“Paul liked to pick out the secretly cool people, people too cool to flash their coolness. The cool people were not always or even usually the same as the shiny people. Often someone shiny was too conventionally good-looking to be cool but they were still compelling, in terms of sheer wattage. Paul knew he wasn't good-looking enough to be shiny, but he could be cool in certain contexts. Cool was relational and conceptual; cool took work, cool was a meritocracy which, with all its flaws, he still preferred to the aristocracy of genetics.” 8 likes
“When women cover songs by men, they don’t swap the pronouns. Is this a.) a lack of anxiety about convention, b.) a biologically essential fluidity native to humans with vaginas and/or two X chromosomes, c.) rampant queerness among women singers, or d.) the universal male default?” 7 likes
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