The debut novel by a 73-year-old Cuban-American playwright and activist.
This novel is singularly difficult to classify. Is it lesbian noir? Slapstick dystopia? Midwestern gothic? To say that it’s all of the above is not to exhaust the list of genres Simo straddles and, maybe, invents. The story begins in New York, where the narrator abuses drugs and lovers and lives off grant money while she’s supposed to be writing the biography of a 19th-century Latina author. Then she loses the ability to write, and her precarious life falls apart completely. A chance encounter with her nemesis, a SoHo art dealer named Mercy McCabe, gives the protagonist a renewed sense of purpose: she will take revenge on the woman who stole her dream girl, Bebe. The world these characters inhabit is not quite this one. A caliphate rules from Constantinople. When the narrator and her rival set out for the Midwest, they cross a landscape ravaged by widespread famine and roving bands of cannibals. In addition to this subtly sci-fi twist, there are elements of surreal horror, as McCabe undergoes inexplicable transformations. What holds everything together is Simo’s inventive and unapologetically irreverent voice, but the abandon with which she writes may prove problematic for some readers. One might argue that if anyone has earned the freedom to make liberal use of the word “dyke,” it’s a woman who has been active on behalf of LBGT causes since before many of her likely readers were born. Simo might have a similar claim to “fag” and “tranny.” As a Latina, she might be said to be reclaiming “spic.” But the sexualization of young girls—from 12-year-olds playing polo to 14-year-old Bebe—is a bit harder to take. Authors are, of course, free to use whatever language they like, and Simo is under no obligation to craft a likable protagonist or a comfortable narrative. But it’s hard to imagine anything beyond a very narrow audience for this novel.
Original, profane, and discomfiting.