French Kisses

Norman Mailer has made abundant use of Powerful Slut/ Evil Queen archetypes, but they make sense in his outsize comic-book landscapes, where all the characters are a dynamic combination of real and absurd. Philip Roth's Cannibal Mothers are caricatures, but they have pathos and great lines. And Charles Dickens used female archetypes as major characters— the Angelic Virgin, mostly— but he offset their stasis with richly textured landscapes and a wild assortment of supporting female characters that give his novels a full, lively scope. (I don't believe Dickens did this to be fair to women, but to write good books.) There are no other females in Chimo's book— though the dark-skinned girls of the projects are briefly described, mostly as desperate dogs, cunts, etc. The imbalance is emphasized by the humanity of Chimo and his bumbling friends, and the best scenes are the ones without Lila in them. (When some idiotic TV reporters come to the projects to badger the boys about a supposed race riot, one of them remarks, "They make you wanna torch the place even if you don't wanna"; your sympathies are with the boys.) Lila can't hold up her end of the sky; the book's like a see-saw with all the weight on one end.

There is nothing more despised than the earnest American penchant for politically correct questions about racial and sexual fairness in art. But a request for "fairness" is sometimes a clumsy way of asking for "truthfulness." Fiction doesn't need to be true to social reality if the author creates a congruent, organic world with its own rhythm and sense. Lila, as the only cartoon figure in an otherwise rich, breathing landscape, doesn't make sense, and she seems doubly false because the book does purport to represent a social reality.

Limbert Fabian

Details

Lila Says
By Chimo
Scribner, 128 pp., $20
Buy this book

Lila Says is possibly a witty put-on, an elegant piece of sexy silliness goofing on the blond bitch and all she might represent. It's got some fun passages, like the one where Lila first offers to show Chimo her pussy and he balks. " 'Shit!' she goes. 'You're a real pain in the ass, you know? It's a freebie you didn't even ask for and you're bitching anyways. For once I feel like doing this with you but the offer won't last! I don't care how much your tongue hangs out, I'm warning you!' " Chimo: "My heart got the news and switched to sunshine." It has charm and humor, but Lila Says is finally lightweight and strangely unaffecting.

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