Funny, insightful, and often quite charming, Andrea Lawlor's PAUL TAKES THE FORM OF A MORTAL GIRL comes as a pleasant surprise. The novel follows theFunny, insightful, and often quite charming, Andrea Lawlor's PAUL TAKES THE FORM OF A MORTAL GIRL comes as a pleasant surprise. The novel follows the life of twenty-two year old queer shapeshifter Paul, who can change his shape from male to female and back again at will. It's a clever and effective allegory for trans and non-binary experiences, but it also works very well as a character trait. Paul, like many twenty-somethings, is full of outward confidence but lacks true self-esteem; he is constantly looking for outside validation through being an object of attraction and uses his shapeshifting abilities to get it. He wonders if there are others like him out there or if he is unique in the world, and what it would mean if either of those are true.
There isn't much in the way of plot per se as we read about Paul's relationships and his travels to different parts of the country, but I found the characters always interesting and there was a lot of sex to keep my attention. I don't mean that reductively or as an exaggeration. There is A LOT of sex in this book -- straight sex, gay sex, lesbian sex -- and to Lawlor's credit it's a very sex-positive novel. (Although not all the sex is presented as sexy; a hurried blowjob in a dirty alley is presented just as unenticingly as you think it would be.) The author evokes the world of 1993 perfectly, and at times takes a fanciful approach to their subject, intoning certain mythically evocative names, interspersing versions of Paul's backstory in the form of folklore and legend, all to great and sometimes even profound effect.
Although I found myself wishing for a slightly stronger ending, the ending Lawlor gives us is certainly the right one. I can't recommend this novel highly enough to anyone interested in queer fiction, or literary fiction that's laced with and informed by the fantastic. Lawlor studied under Samuel R. Delany, and it shows in both their talent and imagination. (And their graphic depictions of sex! Seriously, if you don't like reading about sex, this is not the book for you!) I look forward to seeing what else Lawlor writes in the future....more
I would give this novel more than five stars if I could! I loved it!
There's a compelling whodunit at the center of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, and a sense ofI would give this novel more than five stars if I could! I loved it!
There's a compelling whodunit at the center of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, and a sense of humor both broad and sly, but in many ways the novel is about language and that's where author Jonathan Lethem shines. MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is an exquisitely written book, with prose that places us so deeply inside the mind of our Tourettic hero Lionel Essrog that his verbal and physical tics, which might feel so alarming and random if encountered in real life, begin to make a kind of sense to us here. The characters are wonderfully and indelibly drawn: Lionel, of course, but also his mentor and father figure Frank Minna; the bitter and disappointed Julia Minna; the two old gangsters, Matricardi and Rockaforte ("Garden State Bricko and Stuckface"), who might talk like a parody of Marlon Brando in THE GODFATHER but are not to be underestimated; and the utterly oblivious Kimmery.
It would be a great novel just on its own, but the fact that I lived for twenty years in the very Brooklyn neighborhood in which it takes place -- including several years on Bergen Street, where the fictional L&L Car Service has its office -- added an extra layer of enjoyment for me. I recognized many of the landmarks Lethem utilizes to ground the story with a sense of place: Ziad's, here called Zeod's, the deli on Smith Street that made the best sandwiches in the neighborhood; the Brooklyn Inn, here called the Boerum Hill Inn, which was my watering hole for many years (and the neighborhood's only English-speaking bar for a time); the Promenade and DeGraw Street (where I also lived for several years), and of course those old Garden State Brickface and Stucco commercials. More than a novel for me, MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN doubled as an enjoyable walk down memory lane....more
Hilarious and delightful, Wiebe's RAT QUEENS is a pleasant surprise. It's got great characters and funny dialogue, and it's about as addicting as BettHilarious and delightful, Wiebe's RAT QUEENS is a pleasant surprise. It's got great characters and funny dialogue, and it's about as addicting as Betty's favorite meal of candy and drugs. I would happily follow these foul-mouthed warriors on many more alcohol-fueled adventures!...more
In just six issues, LaValle tells a captivating, unexpectedly emotional, self-contained story that mixes literature, science fiction, and the kind ofIn just six issues, LaValle tells a captivating, unexpectedly emotional, self-contained story that mixes literature, science fiction, and the kind of family tragedy that's all too real. (Also, you get to see Frankenstein's monster battle a huge, heavily armed robot, which is pretty cool!) Occasionally, I wished the story were longer, even if only by one issue, because there are so many great plot threads that I would have loved to see explored further, including the monster's own experiences and an intriguing bit about cloning that definitely could have developed into something more. What dwells at the heart of the story, though, isn't the monster's murderous rage at all life, but a mother's righteous anger at the untimely, unnecessary, and unpunished death of her son. The series may be called DESTROYER, but LaValle's message is about how important every life is, how full of promise and potential, and what a catastrophe it is for all of us when a life is cut short and that potential is never realized....more
Despite the title, Jacob Aranza’s inane 1983 “exposé” of Satanic messages in rock and roll doesn’t spend much time on the backward messages supposedlyDespite the title, Jacob Aranza’s inane 1983 “exposé” of Satanic messages in rock and roll doesn’t spend much time on the backward messages supposedly hidden in all the popular albums of the time. Instead, Aranza chooses to spend the majority of his word count detailing salacious, absurd, and wildly inaccurate rumors about the songs and bands themselves. “There’s a revival going on in Satan’s kingdom,” Aranza writes breathlessly, “and music is his tool.” He goes on to warn the reader, “Young man, that rock music is from the devil! Those loud guitars and that jungle beat are from the pit of hell! You stay away from that stuff!” Rock and roll may be the music of rebellion, but “CAUTION: The end of rebellion is always death.” (Interestingly, since we are all mortal, the end of obedience is always death, too.) Here are some of my other favorite excerpts:
“The [sic] Queen’s top song ‘We Are the Champions’ is the unofficial national anthem for gays (homosexuals) in America.”
“[The Rolling Stones’] song ‘Satanic Majesty’s Request’ [is] the unofficial anthem for all satanic churches.” Later, he makes the exact same claim about their song “Sympathy for the Devil.” There sure are a lot of unofficial anthems for gays and Satanists! Also, “The Stones’ album title Get Yer Ya-Yas Out is based on a phrase which recurs frequently in African voodoo.” And here you thought it was just about boobs!
“One thing is sure, ‘Hotel California’ is not a place where you or I should spend any day or night! This Southern California group’s country-rock blend may at first sound harmless. But continued listening could become harmful. Don’t forget, BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER!”
“[Alice Cooper’s] hits include. . .‘Working Up a Sweat’ which is a song about working up a sweat during the act of sex.”
“Led Zeppelin is no stairway to heaven but rather, if you pardon the expression, on the HIGHWAY TO HELL!. . .[But] there is a real stairway to heaven -- through the cross of Jesus Christ.”
“AC/DC means bisexual.”
“The symbol that [Blue Oyster Cult] use as their trademark, which is a cross with a question mark, can only be an anti-Christ symbol questioning what happened at the cross.”
“Ritchie Blackmore’s music and message are certainly not that of a rainbow but rather a ‘Lake of Fire.’”
“Rumours may be the hit album for Fleetwood Mac, but it is no rumor that this group is indulging in the occult; it is the bare facts.”
“Mind control [in Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’]? They have it over the minds of millions of young people as they encourage rebellion against authority in the school classrooms.”
“A better name couldn’t have been given to [the Grateful Dead] to describe their music. I’m sure many will be grateful when their music is dead.”
“Hall ’N Oates [sic] often impersonate women and attempt to come across to their audiences as women.” Also, “Daryl Hall is a follower of Aleister Crowley.”
“A warning about those interested in flying with Jefferson Starship: their flight pattern ends in death.”
“Unnatural sex is the theme of REO Speedwagon’s album Hi Infidelity.”
“[Elton John’s] song ‘Bitch is Back’ is about sniffing glue.”
But don’t worry, Aranza tells us, if you love good music there are now many excellent Christian acts that can take the place of these deplorable rock and roll bands. “There are no more good excuses why Christian young people cannot hear good quality music about the ‘Rock that never rolls’. . .Jesus Christ.” Never one to let a bad pun die, Aranza writes of these Christian bands, “Christ has put their feet on the Rock and their names on the roll!”
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of incidents in the book that further display a lack of fact-checking: “Jim Steinman, or as he is commonly called, ‘Meat Loaf.’” Jim Steinman is not Meat Loaf. “KISS (Kids In Satan’s Service).” Nope. And who can forget that famous lead singer of the Eagles “Ron Henley”? Or Kenneth Anger’s film “Lucifer’s Rising”?
In case you were wondering if Aranza’s conservative evangelicalism would take a predictable turn into racism -- fear not, it does! In a chapter discussing his own life, including a childhood filled with the horrors of rock music, drugs, and divorced parents, he writes, “As if all this wasn’t bad enough, they had just started integration in schools.” Aranza attended a school where white children were in the minority, which he describes as a twisted, violent hellscape. “We began to have race riots. All the blacks were running around saying, ‘We’s [sic] want black power.’ The Mexicans were running around saying, ‘Hey dude, we want Chicano power.’ The whites were just running around saying, ‘We want OUT!’” I suppose growing up with all those political protests -- sorry, I mean “race riots” -- it was hard not to see Satan everywhere.
This slim volume is a quick read and good for a laugh, if nothing else. However, when I was finished I also read it backward. Imagine my shock when I discovered that when read backward the book clearly states, “Jacob Aranza is a self-righteous and easily misguided imbecile who wants to use religion to control people’s lives so he can feel powerful and important.” CAUTION: Jacob Aranza is the real Bitch who’s Back because he is clearly sniffing glue!...more