In The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America (1998), Michelle Tea recounts a date that took place on a church fire escape, where she discussed “schizophrenia as a mystical experience” and “how more than being a woman or gay it was all about class.” Drunk on wine, the two made out. Over four memoirs and her spoken word projects, Tea has filtered first kisses and blue-collar camaraderie through her engaging charisma, transforming them into rapturous punk odysseys. The San Francisco author shares the working-class Polish thing with Bukowski, a queer identity and Boston upbringing with her hero, Eileen Myles.
With the publishing world gone memoir wild, Tea’s written her first novel, though it could be mistaken for another dose of nonfiction. In caffeinated prose, Rose of No Man’s Land follows the coming-of-age of sweatpant clad Trisha Driscoll, a 14-year-old in Mogsfield, Massachusetts, where she’s downed plenty of tall boys but has yet to see an avocado. A solid complement to Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Lynda Barry’s Cruddy, the book opens with Trisha missing the final day of ninth grade. Her alarm doesn’t go off because her older, conventionally girlie sister, Kristy, hoping to land on the Real World via the white trash angle, blew a fuse videotaping Trisha, “a symbol of family laziness.” Overdosing on Sally Jessy Raphael, her hypochondriac mother remains crashed on the couch, while her mom’s boyfriend inhales ramen in the kitchen.
Aided by Kristy’s duds, Trisha lands a job at Ohmigod!, the coolest clothing store at Square One Mall (well, not that cool—they play Sheena Easton’s “Strut” ad infinitum). Just when Trisha begins wondering if she’s in Pretty in Pink, she meets Rose, who’s 15 and appears to be “twelve years old, thirteen tops.” The chain-smoking Rose has a “bratty swagger,” a lesbian mom, and Trisha notes, “It was as if it had never, ever occurred to her to give a fuck. She had no fuck inside of her to give.” Despite smooches, crystal sniffing, tampons as anti-bully projectiles, and fucking in the handicapped stall at a Chinese restaurant, Rose remains the one-dimensional foil to Trisha.
Buzzed on speed and Yikes (“vodka plus energy drink”), digging quarters from that Chinese restaurant’s indoor river, Trisha wonders, “Why toss a quarter when a penny would do?” She decides: “These were rich-people wishes. I felt fine about taking them.” Her own “welfare family” dreams populate the book, exploding across the page like the union of hairspray and a lighter. She wants, among too many other things, “a magical pack of unending cigarettes,” the ability to kiss Rose again and “touch her boobs,” and to become “supersized with crazycool confidence and daring.” But by the hard-knock finale, the reality of funding wishes with small change is obvious.