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Black Wave, Michelle Tea, Feminist Press, 2016, 325 pp
I was not sure I was going to like Black Wave. It was a contender in the 2017 Tournament of Books. I had listened to an interview with Michelle Tea on the Otherppl podcast. So I took the plunge. She has written and/or edited 14 books. This one, like several earlier ones, is a mashup of memoir and fiction with a meta-fiction section in the middle. I guess you could call it experimental. I was surprised by it and it worked for me.
The first section is set in San Francisco. Michelle writes about herself in third person. She is in her late twenties, a published poet, living the life of a poor, substance abusing, promiscuous lesbian in the Mission district. It is 1999.
This part is raw in the extreme and Michelle is an unlikeable woman. She is unfaithful to her lovers, unable to reciprocate in love, living on the edge of poverty and usually drunk. She also experiments with heroin and feels unconcerned about getting addicted because she inhales rather than shoot it. Truly it is a wonder she remains alive and out of jail.
One day she decides she needs to get her life more together so she moves to Los Angeles intending to write screenplays. She gets a job at that bookstore on Franklin Ave in Hollywood. She drinks wine until she passes out every night. She tries to adapt her life to a screenplay by changing herself into more accessible characters. That is the meta part and the second section.
Then the story gets even more weird because the world is going to end and by the final page, it really does. But as life around her gets more strange by the day, Michelle gets it together. She gets sober, makes peace with her two lesbian mothers, and finds a state of grace.
That is where she got to me. I still felt I was obsessively reading about a messy, sometimes disgusting breakdown of a person and the world, but the juxtaposition of the two became brilliant and full of truth about human beings. Each of us as an individual has an inescapable destiny, she seems to be saying. In parallel to that sobering fact, so does the human race.
Black Wave is not a feel-good book, not at all. It is in many ways appalling and readers will either love it or hate it. I didn't hate it because it has too much about it that is great and I almost loved it for reasons I find hard to articulate. I am extremely glad I read it. At the end, I felt good.
(Black Wave is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)