When I first started querying Coriander Jones in 2012-13, one agent’s submission preferences referenced her love for Weetzie Bat. I admit I hadn’t heard of it, but I put it on my to-read list, where it stayed until recently. I was intrigued by the setting, Los Angeles, and its reputation as a ground-breaking YA book that embraced magic and allegory.
Weetzie, along with her Secret Agent Lover Man, her best friend and his partner, make their own version of family in a Los Angeles that is half in the present and half in the soiled glory of its ritzy past. Having lived in LA in the late eighties, I can see it as a sort of tear-stained love letter to a city that was probably never as grand as people imagined it was during the golden era of Hollywood. Weetzie starts off the book in high school, but after a few scant pages, that locale is never mentioned again. If you like linear story-telling with internal logic, then this is not the book for you.
There is a lot to admire in Weetzie– The writing flows along dreamily as if the characters are having a lucid dream. Some events are constructed on the flimsiest sort of pretense (a magic genie provide Weetzie with just what the “plot” requires, Weetzie decides to become a mother by sleeping with both her friend and her friend’s lover) not to mention the suspension of disbelief about how the lot are even able to buy food. But that misses the point, because the mundane aspects of life (going to school, getting a job, paying bills) are not at all what the book is concerned about.
This is not to say that the magical realism totally overshadows the characters’ genuineness. Weetzie has her first real and true heartbreak when her father dies. The AIDS epidemic (not mentioned by name) hits close to home. In the play within the play, where Weetzie is starring in a movie and can’t figure out how to end the story, her character decides that it is only by dying in the real world that she can wake up in the perfect fantasy world that she wants to live in. Although Weetzie herself doesn’t go the suicide route, I guess the takeaway is that you have to assume these characters only exist in a dreamlike state where all things are possible, where babies show up on doorsteps and no one questions it, and where someone tosses Burt Reynold’s toupee out of a limo window so that it can used to adorn a rubber chicken.
I’m guessing that there was not a whole lot like Weetzie Bat in bookstores when it first came out. It had to have been mind blowing and I wish I had read it when I was closer to Weetzie’s age and closer to my years living in LA. For someone who came of age reading “edgy” contemporary YA by Norma Klein, or other books by SE Hinton or Judy Blume, I can only appreciate Weetzie Bat from a distance. From my perch as a fifty-year old, still working on the writing craft, and parenting a teenager, it’s more of a specimen to me than something I will treasure having read.
If you’ve read it did you love it? Hate it? Wonder what the heck you were looking at? I’m interested in your thoughts.