This may be one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. It begs me to speak in hyperbole about it, because I didn’t really know I could be so rocked by a book. The book calls itself “A Fabulist Memoir” and more or less that’s what it is. The memoir of a west-coast punk rock dyke in the early 90s trying to make sense of what she went through without trivializing it, stereotyping herself, and without diminishing the intensity, weirdness, rebellion, and angst. Sounds impossible. The narrative thread is her relationship with her first girlfriend, who is manipulative and generally not OK, physically or emotionally. We know the girlfriend has AIDS and eventually kills herself. And like most great memoirs it’s not about what happens but how it happens. We know the end already, but how, how is it written and how do we get there. The book functions by accretion of one- or two-page pieces in a variety of modes, mimetic of the erraticness, the shifting and the slipperiness of truth and memory. One is the fable, another is the journal entry (addressed in this case to an imaginary being), the third is the more-or-less-actual narrative, a fourth is a re-telling of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the fifth is a grouping of fake-cult material. There are also collaged-in illustrations, pages taken from notebooks the author kept at during the time she is writing about, etc.
Ok, so the structure, blah blah blah, is freaking genius. It’s absolutely perfect. I’m totally amazed. Also. What seemed most impressive to me was how unrestrained the emotion was. Is. She’s not afraid of being perceived as sentimental, as angsty as cliché, and it’s not, nothing she does is any of that, but handled differently it could have been, maybe, and she doesn’t let that stop her. There’s no search for reformation or truth, though there is a moment of understanding, and it’s one that is utterly revelatory. It’s hardness is not assumed, though, it’s not posturing, it’s necessary, it’s representative of the hardness of her memory, it’s the hardness of acceptance not denial or rebellion.
I want to be able to write like this about my own punk rock living on the streets days. It was the end of the 90s for me, on the other side of the country, ten years later, AIDS wasn’t as big a threat as it used to be, and I’m not a dyke, but despite those differences I found so much of my own experiences in this book. Of course, that’s part of why I love it I’m sure, I recognize the familiar. East coast, late 90s, punk rock living on the streets but trying, desperately trying to figure something out. Not stuck, moving. Moving through something. And what I know is this book gives me hope that someday, if I keep trying, I’ll find a way to write it out too.
But enough about me and more about the book. Read it. It’s probably the greatest thing I’ve read all year. If I ever get the chance to teach Gilgamesh again, I’m teaching parts of this book alongside it. There’s just so much to say about this book, I can’t do it all. The feminist re-telling of Gilgamesh, the story of Ishtar/Inanna. (Once, at work, a co-worker said to me “You’re a goddess.” I had done some small thing for her. I said, without even thinking, “I will be Ishtar.”) What makes it feminist is that it deals with more than actions, and silence, it imagines emotion, suffering, companionship, hints at an intimacy that goes beyond the buddy-film model. And the descent of Inanna into the underworld is magnificent. The fable world of the forest, from which the familiar appears, is so hopeful it hurts. It is the world we all wish we could find. But made strange with longing and reality and memory, it becomes a scary unintelligible place. Synopology, the fake cult, is a brilliant stand-in for Scientology (which is just how I read it, but definitely not the only reading). The typewritten pages of epistolary diary-entry/instruction is absolutely the perfect mode for the kind of reflection that doesn’t lead to remorse or revelation, which is the only kind of reflection that matters. The kind of reflection that leads to acceptance, with or without understanding.
Nope, I have nothing more to say than read this book. Read it again.