Across the Page: Genderqueer Fiction

 
 

Jim is a keen observer of his interior and exterior world. An incredibly flawed but likable character, he defies convention: He identifies as a dyke rather than a lesbian. ("They’re not dykes. They’re LESBIANS! We’re freaks.") He acknowledges the pretense of his own infidelity and jealousy; when it comes to love, he embraces the grit ("she smashes me into pieces and I make mosaics") along with the beauty ("I see her and love every twist and turn of her driving circles around me"). And perhaps the most interesting aspect of his punk personae is that he is a mama’s boy tried and true.

Many of the characters in Godspeed, including Ally, are burdened with horrific pasts. Jim, on the other hand, comes from a decent home. His family is supportive, if not a bit eccentric, and it is not immediately clear how and why he’s ended up as a "speed freak." Breedlove does not lean on convenient excuses or explanations, and neither does Jim: "Some people get high to escape, but I got nothing to escape, no torturous childhood. Just my own self."

Breedlove writes with a poet’s sensitivity to sound. The language of Godspeed moves the narrative forward at full throttle, playing with rhymes and alliteration throughout: "Her tongue’s running over her lips, her eyes narrow into eyelashy slits"; "The night’s like night, with invisible wet, and I glide to the bike"; "She is deep enough to see her own depth. She loves to talk about death"; "Jesus Christ but New York chix are fine. No wonder all my exes aren’t from Texas."

Like poetry, Godspeed is the kind of book you’ll want to read out loud.


Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blondes by T Cooper (Plume)

The story of Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blondes, T Cooper’s novel which was recently released in paperback, is as divided as its title. The book opens in the third person from the perspective of different characters in the Lipshitz family, then slips into the voice of a misanthropic, transgender Eminem impersonator who recently abandoned a successful career in writing.

In the first section, Esther and Hersh Lipshitz lose their youngest son, Reuven, when they arrive at the crowded dock on Ellis Island. It is the early 1900s, and they’ve just left the pogrom of Russia. Reuven is never found. Though the family waits for him in New York City, they eventually travel on to Texas to be with Esther’s brother, whom she admits to loving more than either her children or her husband. Several years later, Esther believes that Reuven — who as a child was "very blond" and thus did "not look like a Jew" — is the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Fast forward another 60 or so years, and we meet the last of the Lipshitz clan, a character named T Cooper who is trying to reconcile his family’s history while battling his own demons in a post-9/11 world. When his parents die in a car accident, he is forced to return to Texas to help his drug-addicted brother arrange for the funeral. In the meantime, his wife has hit a "mom-zilla" stage and wants to use one of his eggs to carry a child.

The book’s transition from past to present, third to first person, is as disorienting as the Lipshitz family’s arrival onto Ellis Island. The pace accelerates, and there is a whole new set of rules that you’re expected to learn, including a different language.

The two sections seem a world apart — and in many ways they are — but Cooper is a skilled writer who makes several unexpected connections. Esther obsesses over Charles Lindbergh, who is accused of anti-Semitism. T impersonates Eminem, who’s been accused of homophobia. Lindbergh and Eminem, with their blond hair and blue eyes, both represent the American dream of celebrity and success.

Though each generation in Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blondes faces its own hardship, all characters encounter some form of discrimination, violence and struggle for affection. In this struggle, the search for identity emerges as an important theme: immigrant or American; male or female; loving mother or the worst mother "in the world — Old or New"; gay or straight; Jewish by faith or ethnicity; outcast or martyr.

Cooper is not the first writer to use his family history or name in a novel, but what makes this book so compelling is how he blurs the line between fact and fiction, truth and perception.

Pages: 1 2
 
 

Tags: , , , , ,