Saturday, August 3, 2013

Overheard at Booth 1: "Weetzie Bat" by Francesca Lia Block

Just finished this book.  Thought it was written in 1988, and was thinking "This is pretty bold for 88 - especially with the AIDS epidemic in full swing."  But it shows a copyright 1998, which brought it down a notch for me - it didn't seem so bold anymore, somehow.

Basically, it's about a late teen girl whose best friend is gay, he finds a lover, she finds a lover, they live in a dead woman's house in LA and they live quite happily making independent movies.  Along the way she wants a baby, her lover does not, she sleeps with the two gay guys so that she can get pregnant.  He gets mad and leaves, eventually returns, and we find out he'd impregnated a witch who leaves her baby with them.

One big happy California family.

The book is sparse, as in zero adjectives.   Rather hallucinogenic style, almost as if she had read too much Beaudelaire in bad translation yet still wanted to write something with Bukowski-cool.  

But maybe I'm being too harsh.   I was thinking about it yesterday: I'm disappointed in the book because I cannot "see" the characters.   I do not know what she looks like, nor her gay friends Dirk and Duck, or her boyfriend, named My Secret Agent Lover Man (or Max).   Yet her father I can see.   He looks like Charlie Swan from Twilight.  Strange I know, but at least I have a visual.   There's a chapter in the book where Weetzie goes to see him in New York and he takes her around New York and he tells her he won't go back to LA because everything is fake there, it's all a fa├žade. 

Then he dies.  Either because he's dying any way or just accidentally ODs, but he dies.   And when I was thinking about how "there goes the one actual clearly-defined character" I also then thought about what he'd said about LA, and then thought, "Maybe this is what Block is doing:  I feel no connection to the characters.  I cannot see them.  They don't feel real to me."

That is supposed to be a sign of bad writing, and maybe it is.  But what if she also meant to do that - keep the characters as nothing but cardboard cutouts.  If so, then she's brilliant.

All I know is this: however much I think the book is rather hazy, somehow I know it's going to stick with me for a long mile, playing at the back of my brain.   And that, my friends, is the standard by which I do judge good literature.

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