cover image Valencia


Michelle Tea. Seal Press (CA), $13 (216pp) ISBN 978-1-58005-035-7

Tea, a modern-day Beat, is also a kind of pop ambassador to the world of the tattooed, pierced, politicized and sex-radical queer-grrls of San Francisco. Her second novel (after The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America) dramatizes the hopes and hurts, apathies and ambitions of young lesbians looking for love in the Mission District, focusing on Michelle, a poet navigating the druggy, boozy dyke scene while consorting with a series of wacky lady loves. Among these are Petra, who thrills Michelle by brandishing a knife and being bossy in bed; Willa, a depressive who won't take off her clothes even in the heat of passion; Iris, originally from Georgia; and Scrumptious, who Michelle falls for before she realizes she's the type of girl who wears corny ""freedom rings"" and white jeans. While the trivialities of these courtships are entertaining and the book is far more coherent than the author's first novel, Tea hasn't entirely figured out how to make her characters come to life beyond predictable bounds. Organized as a series of loosely linked character profiles, the book self-consciously relies on the hipster grooviness and inside jokes of S.F. culture to energize the narrative. And although Tea's writing is consistently uncommon and textured -- ""the mushrooms tasted like a trunk of moth-eaten clothes and after we ate them we went out to the stoop and waited for the world to turn weird""--folks waiting for the truly weird, breakthrough novel in downtown alt-chick literature will be disappointed by this sometimes-superficial, stylized entry. (May)