Rebecca Scott wrote this review for Folk Tales.
When Girl Goddess #9 arrived on my doorstep, I wanted to pick it up immediately and start reading. Then I thought of some of the things I’d written in my last review of Block’s work, and I decided to let it wait until I could make a ritual out of it.
So I waited until I’d finished all the activity, until the visiting family had come and gone, until I’d had an aggravating day at work. Then I ran up the hill to a little deli I know, and bought things with which to spoil myself, and stopped at the store on the way home for wine and chocolate, and I put together a decadent meal. I drew a bath, overflowing with lavender-scented bubbles, and I lit candles, and opened the windows to let the spring air in, and I put on sensual music, soft and hard both.
And then, as I nibbled on the grilled prawns over wild mushroom ravioli with tomato-garlic sauce, and sipped tart raspberry wine, I began to read.
I worked my way through the pasta, and finished the wine, but the salmon sat unnoticed, and the champagne truffles sat in their unopened box. I kept having to add hot water to the bath, and the fragrant bubbles melted away. I was entranced.
If the Weetzie Bat books were fairy tales, these are, perhaps, folk tales, or fables. These stories are darker. The princess does not always get her prince, and wishes are not granted, or not many of them. Yet many of the same themes and motifs are present: love and alienation, growing up, coming out, AIDS, prejudice, fear, and loss.
“Tweetie Sweet Pea,” the first of the nine stories, may explicate the overall theme of the collection best: Yes, the dark things, the bad things, the sadnesses, these are real, but so are Beast princes, unicorns, and faeries. Here a little girl, Tweety Sweet Pea (oh, yes, the strange and wonderful names of a Francesca Lia Block book!), experiences one golden summer day, knowing already that she will outgrow the things that mean so much now, and treasuring them all the more for it.
“Dragons in Manhattan” is told by a little girl who made a very brief appearance in Missing Angel Juan, in which she and her two mothers had their picture taken by Witch Baby in a nearly magical Indian restaurant. Tuck Budd knows that, somewhere, she has a father. She is not at all prepared for what happens when she finds him, but the doors she unlocks reveal joy for more people than just her. This is the longest of the nine stories, and one of the richest.
“Girl Goddess #9” is the text of a ‘zine written by a pair of fourteen-year-olds, who call themselves Lady Ivory and Alabaster Duchess. In this, the ninth issue of Girl Goddess, they discuss how they came to write their ‘zine, and how it won them an interview with the rock star they idolized. Nick Agate became obsessed with Graves’ book The White Goddess, and dedicated his life and the body of his work to the worship of that indefinable deity. His album White Goddess, in turn, inspired these two girls to see the goddesses in themselves, and to write about it. The slightly jerky, heartfelt style; the uneven grammar and punctuation; and the nearly-nonexistant capitalization; these barely distract even me (and I am enough of a grammar goddess that they asked me to be a proofreader here!), since they all feed into the illusion of this ‘zine. The thing that really shows that this was not written by two teens is that it too-neatly encapsulates a process that takes most young women years, if they ever achieve it at all. Once again, I find this not to be a detraction, but a heightening of the effect of the story. It is this encapsulation which lifts “Girl Goddess #9” into the realm of the folkloric, allowing me to sympathize so much more with alabaster duchess and lady ivory[sic], despite our differences.
This was the first story of the collection after which I had to pause, to digest. The first three I gulped whole, reading them and speeding onwards, letting savory, bitter, salty, and sweet pass through me quickly, so that I might experience the rest all the sooner. With “Girl Goddess #9,” I began to slow down, to savor each story more, to think each over at the end, to treat each one as a carefully crafted, separate morsel.
In “Orpheus,” the last glowing fruit on this exotic vine, a young woman is overwhelmed by sexual attraction, or voodoo, or maybe even love. Through she thinks of him as Orpheus, and herself as Eurydice, it seems that he is the one trapped in the Underworld, seeing strange things. She is the one who is escaping to light and air. “I will live in the hills, where the air smells the way the light looks reflected in the bay. Sweet violet air at twilight, tangy silver air in the morning before the sun burns through.” The language here is so beautiful that it makes up for the thinness of the plot; this is more a vignette than a story.
The other tales in this book are no less finely crafted, but I have attempted to show you the most sparkling gems in this jewel-box, the ones which best display this lyric lapidary’s art.
I said of the Weetzie Bat books that I wished I had found them ten years ago. If I had read Girl Goddess #9 when I was in my teens, I would have cried over some of these stories. I might have begun to write my own zine, or wanted to visit Manhattan, or tried to read The White Goddess. It would have sparked something new in me. Now when I read it, a feeling grows in me like the flavor of my favorite bittersweet chocolate. It is not nostalgia, or any wish to be younger. It is, instead, a fine, sad, joyful acceptance of what life brings, and the knowledge that any of it can be made beautiful.
I’ll eat a few of my champagne truffles as I lie in bed tonight, getting ready to fall asleep, and tomorrow I’ll eat my salmon for lunch, and the flavor of both will be enhanced by the memory of language and narrative as rich as any food or drink I could have.