Monday, December 17, 2007

Michelle Tea: Rose of No Man's Land

I am a Michelle Tea fan and this book left me a little disappointed. She uses that gimmick "whole book happens in one day" which never quite does it for me. "Rose of No Man's Land" takes place in 48 hours, but all the good stuff takes place in a hyperactive, mood-swing kind of 24 hours, or maybe even the last 6 hours of those 24 hours. Readers also get the added gimmick of "protagonist's first drug trip" for the majority of that really exciting 6 hours, so everything kind of goes loopy during the really exciting part of the book, making it seem like an awful dream sequence from a mediocre movie. A third gimmick that sometimes works and sometimes flops the attempted use of the 14 year old's voice for the narrative. Sometimes her narrative is convincing and then sometimes she slips into adult Tea voice and I slipped out of being convinced of the narrator or really anything else that was going on.
All of this being said, I really wanted to like this book. Tea tells stories that most authors don't- of lesbians and genderbenders doing what they do- nothing exciting or abnormal, just "being". These books are hard to find.

The narrator, Trisha, is a 14 year old who supposedly has not had a single friend in her whole entire life. Her older sister has just finished vocational school and is obsessed with being on MTV's "Real World" so she follows every bit of her life around with a camera. She is the essential "girly girl" with a twist- she is the only motivated person in Trisha's life. Trisha discovers something about herself when her sister forces her to hold the camera to film key moments of Kristy's life. Tea did herself and the book a disservice by not exploring this more, but it wouldn't have fit well into two of three gimmicks: tell the whole story in 14-year old voice and sandwich whole book into three days. Ma is a hypochondriac so worried about getting ill that she can't find the strength to get off of the couch but somehow has found a boyfriend willing to live with her and help her get the welfare straightened out. (I have to admit, I frequently wondered how Ma got off the couch to pee, but again, you don't worry about details like that in a book that takes place in one day.) Then Trisha meets Rose, and for 6 hours, we go along with a totally new world.

Tea is a spoken-word artist, and it shows in this book. There are some awesome creative moments where the reader is taken outside of herself altogether and totally transported into Trisha's bizarre world. The writing is fast-paced, and the book is a fast read. The work is visual- you can totally see everything that is happening. If this were my first Tea book, I think I would be hooked. Since I've read others, better ones, I was left wanting more.

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