In the LA Review of Books, Hugh Ryan reviews the new book by Michelle Tea, best known for her fictionalized queer punk chronicle of pre-gentrification San Francisco, Valencia (2000). As Ryan writes, in Black Wave Tea explores the sometimes humorous and sometimes agonizing effort of a protagonist named “Michelle Tea” to find some measure of stability after a youth spent drinking heavily, partying hard, and experimenting sexually. This storyline is weaved into a dystopian plot that explores what people will do when they know the world is about to end. Here’s an excerpt of Ryan’s review:
Questions of adulthood — what it means, when we enter it, what adults do and don’t do — permeate the book, as when Tea writes:
It is so hard for a queer person to become an adult. Deprived of the markers of life’s passage, they lolled about in a neverland dreamworld. They didn’t get married. They didn’t have children. They didn’t buy homes or have job-jobs. The best that could be aimed for was an academic placement and a lover who eventually tired of pansexual sport-fucking and settled down with you to raise a rescue animal in a rent-controlled apartment.
Obviously, this is hyperbolic and true only for a very specific valence of “queer,” a segment of the population that grows smaller as those “markers of life’s passage” become more open to gay people — not because we’re all about to toss away the alternative lives we’ve constructed, but because for the next generation of queers, the rights we’ve fought for (marriage, childrearing, etc.) will eventually be understood as obligatory (as they are for young straight people now). In this sense, Black Wave is a eulogy not just for Tea’s life in the 1990s, but also for her entire community in those years.
Her jaundiced view of this community is in contrast to her earlier work, which celebrated her nonconformist compatriots and their antiestablishment stances. In Black Wave, her relationship to her fellow riot queers is deeply conflicted, as in this description of one of the women she’s (sort of) dating at the start of the book:
Penny was indeed amazing, but Michelle worried there was a time limit on that sort of amazing. That it was the sort of amazing that could begin to look sad with age. Michelle fought against this analysis, which seemed cruel and typical. The messed-up queers Michelle ran with tempted fate daily, were creating a new way to live, new templates for everything — life, death, beauty, aging, art. Penny would never be pathetic, she would always be daring and deep, her addiction a middle finger held up to proper society. Right? Right?
Image of Michelle Tea via clintcatalyst.com.