NICOLE J. GEORGES is a quintessentially Portland artist. We should probably put her face on a coin—or better yet, one of those "Supportland" cards that encourage shoppers to support local businesses. Her pet portrait-themed calendars hang in vegan kitchens throughout the city, and her black-and-white avatar—cat-eye glasses, side-swept bangs, granny sweater—is familiar from years of her self-published zine Invincible Summer. (It's available at Reading Frenzy, natch.)
Her new memoir Calling Dr. Laura juxtaposes childhood flashbacks with Georges' life as a twentysomething lesbian in Portland. While the book's big mystery involves Georges' paternity—a psychic tells her she's misinformed as to the identity of her father, validating Georges' life-long suspicions—equal weight is placed on her relationship with a dog-loving musician, and her ambivalence about coming out to her mother.
Longtime Portlanders will enjoy references to scuzzy North Portland bar the Paragon Club, where Georges worked as a KJ, and local music fans of a certain age will have no trouble sorting out the identity of Georges' girlfriend and former bandmate, "Radar." All of the insidery Portland stuff is just icing on the vegan cake, though, as the book's elliptical structure intriguingly connects Georges' childhood troubles to the challenges she faces as an adult.
Some of those childhood troubles are pretty tough to read about, though Georges has a knack for describing without wallowing. A chapter on her childhood encopresis—a fancy name for "pants pooping"—is legitimately brave. Georges illustrates her childhood self with compassion, a round-headed child clutching her stomach in pain and hiding soiled pairs of underwear.
If Calling Dr. Laura wants for anything, it's a better understanding of Georges' mother. In flashback scenes, she hops from man to man and helps little Nicole outsmart the truancy officer. As an adult, Georges fears coming out to her mom—there's even a diagram that illustrates the typical course of an argument between the two. Georges' mom is a provocative character, but she's never quite fully rendered. Overall, though, Calling Dr. Laura strikes a wise and thoroughly enjoyable balance between domesticity, introspection, and gossipy low-level sensationalism. Also, lots (LOTS) of adorable drawings of dogs. Sold.