Rose of No Man's Land

It may be fiction, but it's real

By Michelle Tea

MacAdam/Cage (February), $22

Fans of underground superstar Michelle Tea have been waiting a long time for it, and now they're rewarded with this big, juicy novel. Tea's earlier books, mostly memoirs, are loved for their truth-telling, but here the author is untethered by the narrative demands of real life. In the story of Trisha, a teenager baffled and buffeted by the mall world around her, Tea's voice keeps its chomp (“It for sure was her, that same weird strut, like a mean chicken”) but goes further, to stretch into the possibilities of fiction. Rose uses an ill-advised tattoo as an emblem for the bittersweet etch of the past, and Trisha's misadventures with her new friend Rose seem at once classic suburban bildungsroman (like doin' drugs on the peewee golf course) and never-told (like the inexplicable delight of an unflattering self-inflicted haircut). Wildly irresponsible adults, evil pretty girls, and angry waitstaffers teeter around the protagonists as chain restaurants glitter strangely and a dinosaur becomes home. At an especially worrisome moment, Tea describes the main characters as “Girl Scouts who forgot their cookies, forgot their little uniforms, forgot their purpose in life.” It may be fiction, but it's real.

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