Michelle Tea writes like an estrogen fever dream: her girl sex stories float through ruptured San Francisco streets reverberating lost romance, broken families, and abused prostitutes. San Francisco is the perfect partner to Tea's narrator's simultaneously bleak and romantic viewpoint--it is a city where the interpersonal somehow seems merely geographic. A chance meeting might erupt into love. Or sickness.
In her debut a year ago, The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, Tea introduced her readership to a wry girl narrator, who stumbled up through goth adolescence to a discovery of her dyke-y leanings and into ill-fated prostitution. In Valencia, the same narrator, "Michelle," continues her vague search for fulfillment via girl romance, hitchhiking, and odd jobs, including a brief stint again into prostitution. While the storyline sounds like stock Beat stuff, Tea manages to transcend macho self-interest in Valencia, acknowledging her fuck-up-edness with thematic burlesque.
In one scene, after trying valiantly to quit drinking coffee for a girlfriend, Michelle breaks down crying in the midst of yuppie Noe Valley--in another, she mocks her own refusal to get a job: "I was an artist, a lover, a lover of women, of the oppressed and downtrodden, a warrior really. I should have been somewhere leading an armed revolution in the name of love and no, I was not going to work."
Tea, co-founder of the San Francisco literary performance group Sister Spit, is one of the best writers to emerge from a group of young women who use first-person linear narrative and unequivocal language--traditionally thought of as "male" by feminist theorists--to present the reality of life as a girl, interacting with other girls whose strengths and weaknesses thrum on Michelle's own. The reality contained in Valencia is human enough to break your heart; rife with misguided intelligence, complicated sex, and the impossibility, even the undesirability, of redemption.