Rose of No Man's Land
Michelle Tea, who has become something of a spokesperson for the post-modern lesbian subculture, has published several award-winning memoirs chronicling everything from her girlhood in working-class Boston to her stint as a San Francisco prostitute. Now she's offering a novel (her first since 2000's VALENCIA) that embodies all her working-class resentment, desperation, and rage in the person of Trish, an apathetic girl whose life changes utterly in the course of one summer day.
Trish is going nowhere fast. She sleeps through her last day of ninth grade, and plans to spend most of her summer vacation drinking beer and staring at the ceiling. Trish's mom --- a hypochondriac who spends all her days sacked out on the couch watching reality television and examining her breasts for lumps --- and her mom's boyfriend --- a real loser named Donnie who litters the kitchen with his ramen noodle packages and uses Trish's room to store stolen goods --- couldn't care less about what Trish does with her life.
Only Trish's older sister Kristy seems to be going somewhere. She has done well at the vocational high school, and she has a new job at Jungle Unisex hair salon at the local mall. Kristy is a dreamer: she's convinced that her crazy family and white trash background make her a perfect candidate for MTV's "Real World" and constantly films her family's life (Trish is cast as the "teenage alcoholic" in Kristy's home movies), even bringing the camcorder to her first job interview. Kristy longs to make Trish her next project, and uses a combination of lies and lots of hairspray to get Trish a job at Ohmigod!, the coolest teen clothing shop at the Square One Mall (and a place where Trish normally wouldn't be caught dead).
Not surprisingly, given Trish's bad attitude and Kristy's deception, Trish gets fired from Ohmigod! even before the end of her first shift. But that's ok, because she's already met Rose, a disgruntled fry cook whose devil-may-care attitude, frank talk, and risky behavior intrigue Trish right from the start. Almost before she knows it, Trish is off on a whirlwind, funhouse tour of the beaches, carnivals and mini-golf courses of Boston's North Shore, with Rose as her questionable tour guide through the realms of hitchhiking, crystal meth and sex.
Trish's voice is rough, raw and self-important (she speaks In Capital Letters while everyone else speaks in italics), occasionally revealing her vulnerability, such as when she expresses her surprise at having a new friend or her desire to have a normal, emotionally involved mother: "It stabs that little place in my heart that wants a real normal Ma so bad, I can't stop myself from sitting before her like a dumb puppy-daughter sucking up her smiles and her interest."
Tea, who grew up in working-class Chelsea, Massachusetts, is right on target in her descriptions of fictional, trashy Mogsfield, as well as in her depictions of teenage girls. Rose's persona can seem over-the-top, especially a scene in which she hurls a used tampon at a car full of harassing guys. But she nevertheless is convincing as one of those intense, powerfully magnetic people who can readily suck the more passive Trish into her powerful and potentially damaging orbit.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011
Rose of No Man's Land
- Publication Date: April 25, 2006
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 306 pages
- Publisher: MacAdam/Cage
- ISBN-10: 1596921609
- ISBN-13: 9781596921603