by Michelle Tea
(Semiotext(e)/ Smart Art Press) $8
This book is the first in a series of collaborations between Semiotext(e), a small press based in New York, and Smart Art, based in Santa Monica. There are some pretty interesting differences between East and West Coast writing, and this makes their new series, West Coast Native Agents, intriguing.
In this book someone called Michelle--either a memoirist or a character invented by the novelist--tells us about five miserable years of her life, 1987 through 1992. She starts as a girl with a boyfriend at the end of high school, and ends as a girl who's been dumped by the girlfriend she's traveled across the country, again, to live with. She lives through Goth fashion and friendlessness, heartless and orgasmless sexual explorations, yucky sex work, and New Age healers walking across her face while wearing cleats.
This book is a real bummer, but it's compulsive reading--there's always the promise of some kind of breakdown or blow-up, some vengeance or mercy or just a good old annihilation. But it never comes. This character, Michelle, is no wiser or stupider at the end of the book than she was at the beginning. The emotional landscape is like a bunch of sand dunes: wind and little scratchy bushes blow over, and the shapes shift, but nothing really changes. It doesn't matter. Stealing a lipstick or betraying a friend, missing a ride or getting beat by a trick, each have about the same impact.
You can walk down Broadway any day and see pathetic, trashy-looking girls whose story this could be. This book is awfully true. Michelle Tea reads as part of Sister Spit at the Seattle Poetry Festival, Sat May 1, 9:30 pm, Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave, 346-0180, $10/$12. REBECCA BROWN
selected stories by Diane Williams
(Dalkey Archive Press) $13.50
Diane Williams' super-short prose, like poetry, unfolds in the back of the brain. Williams' work has been described, accurately, as sudden fiction. Each story follows its own logic, a logic of the unconscious that makes knock-the-wind-out-of-you leaps. I trust it as I read, even though I may not get it at the time. I never put my fork down between bites and chew my food completely, although there is plenty of sound reason to do so. The same goes for all truly great short fiction. I tend to gulp, to guzzle.
Each of the page-and-a-half stories is lyrical, complex, visceral, and deeply humorous. "Seraphim" follows a woman who wears a mustache around town, embarrassing and apologizing to her children, defending her propriety by declaring, "I never wear it anywhere near my perianal or my vaginal-lips locations. If it as much as touches my eyes, I wash them out with a solution. I promise you--you are an angel!--I keep it out of the reach of the children!"
"Forty Thousand Dollars" tells a more obvious story: a younger woman listens to an older woman talk about her diamond ring. "She was waggling it, which I loved her to do, because I loved to see it move, to see it do anything at all, and she said, 'I make my meatloaf with it.' She said, 'I like that about it, too,' and I saw the red meat smears she was talking about, smearing the ring the way they would do, the bread all swollen up all over it, all over the ring part and the jewel. I saw my whole recipe on that ring."
Like "greatest hits" albums, this collection can create phobia and disorientation. Paired with the menacing nature of the work, this leads me to caution the unwary: Read just a few at a time. Allowing Williams' disquieting presence into your body, mind, and soul, though, is the path to bliss. RACHEL KESSLER
THE COMICS JOURNAL # 210
Lists always bring the pundits in. Print your Top 100 Comics of the Century list and watch the anal fanboys come running. Never mind that they only ever reflect the opinions of a handful of individuals.
The Comics Journal says the warped impressionistic mid-'20s American newspaper strip Krazy Kat and Charles Schulz's eternally loved Peanuts are the best two comic strips of all time--and indeed, I have a Krazy Kat calendar "next to my stereo, and still turn first to Peanuts on Sunday, though it ceased to be good in 1965.
I wouldn't have put Art Spiegelman's Maus at #4 (much too high, much too trendy), and Justin Green's ridiculous nod to underground '70s cartoons hardly belongs at #9 (Binky Brown Meets The Virgin Mary; thus placed because it inspired the whole sub-genre of autobiographical comics... this is something to cheer?)--but hey, it's the chart compilers' tastes, not mine.
I like the way this issue of The Comics Journal is presented so tidily, not a word misplaced, all the classic comics reappraised and given space--still, there's no way that Raw, that self-consciously fancy New York clearinghouse for art school rejects, should've been placed above Will Eisner's The Spirit.
But on the whole, the list is fair enough--except when it overlooks Bill Watterston's genius Calvin and Hobbes (only #36?), and the outrageous way it places Chris Ware's okay-ish ACME Novelty Library above Polly & Her Pals, and Kurtzman's Jungle Book, and Gasoline Alley, and... well, almost everything. And why such blatant snobbery against the early Marvel Comics titles? Ah, well. Them's the breaks--but Little Nemo in Slumberland should clearly have tied with Mad magazine for #1.
As for the Queen Itchie-compiled underground homage to the Spice Girls: From the Pete Bagge wrap-around cover to the biting satirical essays to the gross Ivan Brunetti slobfest to the uneven selection of cartoons inside, this is a cool gift for any adult Spice Girls fan. And believe me, there are plenty of us around. EVERETT TRUE