"I'm just using language to manipulate the reader into feeling my feelings, or the feelings I hope they feel."
A little less than halfway through Michelle Tea's new novel Black Wave, our narrator—also named Michelle—reveals that the story she's been telling is not the "true" version of events. Originally, she tells us, this was to be a book about the end of a major long-term relationship, but the ex didn't want to be written about. In the past, Michelle powered through such discomfort with the mantra "don't act that way if you don't like to see it in print," but she's increasingly "haunted by the thought that the work she did, her art, brought pain to other people." So she shifts around the order of some encounters and events, and has herself move from San Francisco to Los Angeles alone, rather than with that ex, which is, we're told, what "really" happened. Also, the world is literally about to end.
The looming apocalypse is present from the beginning of the novel—late '90s San Francisco is a "vampire town," heated by a "killer sun," so we already know we're not reading straight-up memoir. But something happens when Michelle the narrator, who, of course, we can't help but read as a stand-in for Michelle the author (of numerous memoirs and novels), intervenes to let us know that she's presenting us with a manufactured reality. The whole book begins to buzz, glow, backward and forward, with the possibility of both the imagined and the real. Every utterance becomes multivalent. The effect is more complex and compelling than the typical state of suspended disbelief fiction typically invites us to embrace. Black Wave—brainily, hilariously, heartbreakingly—makes felt the labor of dragging language onto experiences in order to give them a shape that will reveal their emotional truth without bringing pain to other people. Every sentence is thick with what it both can and cannot communicate about a person, a time, a place, a life.
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