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by Ariel Gore

Pub Date: May 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-085428-6

An unhappy performance artist imagines herself as a sacrificial lamb in this debut novel.

As the founder and editor of the ’zine Hip Mama, Gore challenged the belief that motherhood barred women from a hipster cultural scene and tapped into a readership that wanted to rewrite traditional social roles. Her insight forms the basis of this novel, in which an unlikely band of social misfits create a traveling performance-art show organized around saints, resurrections and redemptions. Behind the scenes, they come together as a family; they seek romance, take care of a child and nurture each other’s fragile egos. Frankka, the narrator and star of the show, is a stigmatic, able to replicate the wounds Jesus received on the cross. Her fellow performers include a trapeze artist, a psychic, a drag queen and a moody Italian firebreather who imagines the troupe as his salvation. The narrative alternates between Frankka’s account of her disaffection with her theatrical life—which intensifies following a newspaper article that leads to questions about her authenticity—and her brief, breezy introductions to the lives of various Catholic saints. Despite being rather overcrowded with saints and sinners alike, the story never quite takes off. The characters’ tormented relationship with their own pasts is strangely flat, their quirkiness studied and unconvincing. Even the narrator’s soul-searching, which often takes the form of extended and rather labored meditations on Catholic rituals and symbols, seems contrived and forced. The author has a nice ear for dialogue, and there are moments when Frankka’s diffuse anger and loneliness come alive, but her insistence that Frankka—and by extension her fellow performers—are already suffering saints gives this work an annoyingly moralistic quality in which we learn a lesson about our common humanity.

An imaginative plot and some lively dialogue can’t overcome the forced eccentricity of the characters and their facile insights.