Written in the brash, fervent voice of the young and addicted, this debut novel from underground superstar Laurie Weeks “is a short tome of infinitesimal reach, a tiny star to light the land” (Eileen Myles).
Strung out on dope and unrequited love for her straight best friend, Jane, the novel’s unnamed narrator zig-zags between glimpses of her childhood and early teens to the raw, super-caffeinated world of her present on the streets of New York. Chosen by Dave Eggers as Best American Nonrequired Reading and a winner of the 2012 Lambda Literary Awards, this novel encapsulates the soaring highs and gritty lows of the junkie and the reckless intensity of love. “The book’s pulse is evident on every page.” (Lambda Literary)
“Zipper Mouth is a brilliant rabbit hole of pitch-black hilarity, undead obsession, the horror of the everyday, and drug, drugs, drugs.” —Michelle Tea, co-founder of SisterSpit
|Publisher:||Feminist Press at CUNY, The|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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Movie: Of Human Bondage
Movie: Of Human Bondage (1934) A clubfooted medical student is infatuated with a woman.
— NY Post TV listing
I decided I was in love with this girl and I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. I smoked cigarettes and lay on the bed. I wanted her to drop by in the afternoon for a nap. It didn't seem likely but this was part of the pleasure, like the agony of fixating on a dead movie star the way I'd become obsessed at age fifteen with the long-decomposed actress Vivien Leigh, a.k.a. Scarlett O'Hara, and her later, more bummed-out incarnation, Blanche DuBois. Instead of rock stars, I had pictures of Vivien all over my room, glossy publicity shots and film stills I'd ordered or simply received in the mail, gifts from sad obsessives who advertised, as I did, in the back pages of Nostalgia, Illustrated, a creepy classic-movie magazine for shutins and losers that I'd stumbled across on the racks at Consumer's Supermarket while leafing through Seventeen and holding my breath against the stench from the sugar beet factory squatting evilly down the road. At night I lay awake in sadness, grieving that Vivien had died alone, coughing herself to death consumptively long before I was old enough to intervene. "She was a great actress," I said morosely to my friends, trying to visualize her having sex with Laurence Olivier, not so easy, really, to wrap your mind around. Part of her allure was the fact that she spelled "Vivien" with an e, not an a, the e more refined and seductive, the a somehow thudding and crude, witness the barbarian Vivian Vance.
In one of the photos tacked up inside my teenage closet, Vivien leans into the lens and smiles, glamorous in the low-cut red velvet robe she wore in Gone With the Wind when Rhett takes her upstairs and rapes her, at which point she blossoms into the fullness of her love. The shot's a medium close-up taken as she relaxes on the set, in her hand a cigarette. She's smoking. Each day after school I'd lock my bedroom door, open the closet, and stand with my peanut butter sandwich, staring into Vivien's green eyes as if my gaze, held long enough, could jump-start the pulse in her throat, compel the hand with that cigarette off the page and up to my lips to offer me a drag, her body following to step gracefully into my room, suspended tobacco smoke drawn back into the chamber of her mouth as she starts to breathe again for real. Jesus, I couldn't imagine: Mom vacuuming the same spot suspiciously outside my door while inside there's this movie star thing looking into your eyes. Oh my god you just want to be the smoke pulled between her lips. What happens when you get inside a person anyway, up that close, inside their mouth? Nothing, I guess. It's like a photograph blown up. They just dissolve into a haze of black and white dots until all you have is molecules and air, nothing there.
That day on the sidewalk you lifted your arm above your head. There in the hollow the wispy dark hairlets, I couldn't breathe. I lit a cigarette, walked inside a building. Dreamily I got through my task, propelled by shots of adrenaline at the thought of your name. The job was easy, I didn't care. I drifted home, not minding the sidewalk, the wreckage percolating around me. Your name is Jane. I floated through my door, lit a cigarette, my nerves were black. I thought I might buy some drugs and call you up.
"I'm a Scorpio," Vivien explained to a reporter, "and we Scorpios are like that: we eat ourselves up and burn ourselves out." At fifteen, I lumbered numbly through various hallways — from my bedroom to the kitchen, from the snack bar to math. In geometry I sat there flunking and stared with loathing at my forearm: it looked so meaty. Whenever the guy next to me glanced over, I hid it in my lap. I had long, thin limbs but in my mind I was a sausage, the wrapping stretched tight to the point of bursting with a putrid, ground-up meat. I pictured the finespun Vivien huddled in the corner of a darkened hotel room in Rome, abandoned by Olivier, career on the rocks, cold flames rolling off her, burning alive in the firestorm of her manic depression. I watched the scorpion stinger on her tail, stuck in her own throat and convulsively pushing poison into her neck. Something that doesn't hurt one part of your body can leak from its sac and paralyze another.
I wanted to say something about Vivien that your letter reminded me of. You know, her death was such a devastating thing for everyone concerned that it had a strong effect on me. As a result, I've been trying to overcome my affinity for Vivien by ignoring everything about her. Of course this is ridiculous, because I love acting, and she is the best actress I've ever seen, yet undeniably wild under the surface. In a more concrete area, you mentioned that you felt her hair was much too severe. However, just before you wrote that, I was thinking how much I liked her hair as she got older, because she wasn't teasing it. But then I got to thinking, and the more I thought, the sadder I got. Thinking of Vivien generally makes me unhappy. Yesterday an article mentioned she was cremated. Everything slammed to a halt. I knew it now. She was dead, and she was gone. She didn't exist, there was nothing left, it was exactly like seeing a living person vanish into thin air. I had the eerie feeling I was looking into London and seeing only sky. Well, it is sad but of course it is the best possible thing. One has to come to terms sometime, it's strange and difficult to know someone through descriptions and words. Plus I think it's very trite for the Vivien Leigh Society to sign their letters Sincere-Leigh.
I looked down at the copy before me, which I was supposed to proofread. Jesus Christ, I couldn't focus. I sat back in my chair, fiddling with the pen, my eyes moving around the room of their own accord, wandering orbs of a vegetative patient. Thin strip of blue visible above the building opposite. My gaze dragged my body across the room and out the large sealed window, over the desk littered with drafts, book blurbs to check, sticks of gum I chewed obsessively for fear of offending my co-workers, whom I loathed, the various staplers and paper clips, over the crowded desktop past the trash can filled with signifiers of my incompetence — incorrect printouts, Coke cans to nurse my hangover, plastic trays from the cafeteria since I couldn't get it together to bring my lunch — my gaze pulled me across the stained beige carpet and through the window, then it let me go. An open space opened in my chest. This was love, a ledge. I stepped off to plunge through the icy blue. Jane, the falling sensation. So cold my burning skin. Falling past windows I am many people, each with a body temperature unique to them. Some are feverish and some hypothermic, trailing flames or bits of ice. Some have diabetes, some have twenty-twenty vision, many are blind. A few of my personalities can enjoy the occasional Snickers bar and then not think about chocolate or indeed any candy at all for days. Similarly, some of my selves are tormented by nicotine addiction while others can enjoy a cigarette or two and never have one again. Some of my personalities have had three or four amputations. Others successfully manage a variety of apartment complexes. Some languish in comas, a few go fly-fishing with their fathers, others sneer at cheap sentiment. One of my personalities was a concubine for a homicidal dictator and was never able to get adequate medical treatment for her resulting syphilis.
Dear So-and-So, I'm sorry I didn't call you back but I've been really really sick.
I glanced again at the pack of lies awaiting my scrutiny on the desk. Fuck. I pushed my chair away from the desk and began leafing through a book nabbed from the Free Shelves in the hall. "Do you have those pages for me yet?" I looked up. In the doorway stood Sue, chief editor or something. "What are you doing?" she said, glancing at the book. Its title, Living Without a Goal, appealed to me, though when opened it turned out the dust jacket had erroneously been placed over galleys of a book about the bombing of Dresden. "This isn't the time to be doing your personal business," said Sue. "I was just doing a little factchecking," I replied, tapping the book confidently before tossing it aside and pretending to jot some pertinent info on a lime sticky. Sue lingered a moment, her eyes coating me with distaste. Busily I finished scribbling I Am a Total Cunt: Sue's Story on the sticky. "I need those pages now," she said finally, turning away. "Have them for you in a second," I sang amiably as she moved off. Don't look at me. What's alien about yourself is intolerable; you expel it onto me. Your displaced selves clutch at my hair, miniature psychotic children twirling from the maypole of my body spinning in your eyes.
Once I was twelve, riding my bike at night on a country road in pitch blackness. I passed by the only street lamp for miles. My shadow shot across the road onto a wall of hedges. On the leaves a perfect outline: bike wheels, pedals, legs bending and going around, torso leaning over the handlebars, crooked arms, round ball for my head. Of course there will come a time when I won't have a body and hence no shadow.
I crumpled the sticky then on second thought smoothed it out and taped it to the cover of the Dresden book beneath the Living Without a Goal dust jacket. I dropped my head to the desk, my mind wandered back to the night before. Thinking of your lips, a kiss that makes your heart lurch. I didn't kiss you last night. I lay awake by myself in a drunken trance of imagined kisses.
Valerie, another editorial overlord, patrolled past my door in a fuchsia suit patterned with enormous flowers, the mutant blossoms shouting for release from the cheap fabric. Her brown and placid hair lay unassailable in its barrette. Swampily, I observed her from my den, mesmerized by the strange and gaseous colors of the garment even as my fingers pounded industriously at the keyboard. Jane, I typed again and again, trying to imagine how it would feel to be named Jane. Jane.
During the lengthy delirium of my romance with Vivien Leigh, a long illness which took place entirely within the mysteries of my soul, as Mallarmé put it, I was possessed by a monomaniacal lust for tidbits about Vivien, accounts of her ecstasies and torment, her favorite songs, hints of the savage intelligence and raging hungers I envisioned surging beneath her exquisitely controlled demeanor. At the mall I haunted the theater and film shelves of Waldenbooks in an altered state while stoners in the dark arcade across the hall played Asteroids and foosball, at which my friend Stacey and I regularly kicked their contemptuous weaselly asses in pizza parlors all over town. "Ugly bitches," they'd mutter, shoving quarter after quarter into the coin slot. In the bookstore, deaf to the neural disruption of electronic sirens and beeps and the hard slap of plastic disks ricocheting across the air hockey table table, I scanned indexes until Vivien's name appeared, its letters curare-tipped arrows causing my hyperventilating sensorium to seize as I spastically mangled my way through the book to the magic page. When movie books arrived in the mail I tore through the envelopes as though ripping off her clothes. Brief exposures surfaced. Vivien folding her panty hose each day in the shape of a cross, a lifelong eccentricity. Vivien eating lunch each day facing a Modigliani or a Dufy. Vivien adoring any lunch eaten while facing a Modigliani or a Dufy. Favorite hobby, Miss Leigh? Serendipity. Vivien en route to the sanitarium, stepping from a small 1950s plane to collapse into the arms of Danny Kaye on the tarmac, an embrace that made the hair on my forearms stand up as though I were about to be struck by lightning.
Lorraine, one of my fanatical correspondents, fed her void within by viewing Vivien vehicles like Waterloo Bridge on all-night TV in the magical world of NYC, whereas our four local stations signed off at midnight. I considered writing PBS to ask for some Leigh films but it seemed futile — I imagined my request buried beneath thousands of postcards delivered each day to the station, an avalanche fired off by my town's miniscule population, specific titles itemized during chain-smoking breaks at the beet factory or interludes atop idling tractors, some guy throwing the engine into neutral mid-plow for no reason. Spaced out in the glowing neutrino flow ejected by the sun, your endocrine system in thrall to the silky drift of Aldicarb and Nitro-fen motes shed by crop dusters skimming the fields. Dear PBS, Could you please show that one movie where James Dean and Natalie Wood fall in love beneath stars in a planetarium, or else another very sad one where Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty have the most magical heartbreaking love.
Who was I? Answer: Nobody. Management would trash my plea without even bothering to read it. On the other hand, was it not the moral of all Katharine Hepburn vehicles and Hollywood anecdotes in general that really only eccentricity and saucy effrontery distinguished you from the mindless herd and made people respect you enough to do your bidding? In fifth period Social Studies, while my debate partner arranged M&M's in fanciful patterns on her thigh under the desk and ate them one by one according to a complicated algorithm, my mind wandered out the window and strode into the office of the PBS boss, Spencer Tracy, to demand with wit and spunk that he show some guts for once in his life and act like a man by screening something smart, rather than playing lackey to the mouth-breathing tastes of the Sheep. Classy flicks, things like, oh, say, films starring Vivien Leigh, for example.
Leaning over the desk to torch his cigar with my chrome pistol-shaped lighter, I pin him against the leather chair with my flashing eyes. "And get a grip on the Three Motherfucking Stooges, ok? Show something else." I snap the lighter shut. "Like maybe some self-respect ." Whirling, I'd stride from the room, leaving Spencer awestruck, stricken, cut to the bone by truth and desperately in love. That night, PBS breaks into An American Family with an urgent bulletin announcing a very special tribute to legendary British actress Vivien Leigh and her groundbreaking films, a marathon extravaganza running the gamut from fluff like Look Up and Laugh to sexy total bummers like Tennessee Williams's The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, featuring Warren Beatty as the Italian gigolo who crushes Vivien's aging heart like a freshly drained can of Coors in the fist of a frat boy. The promo ends, the phone rings.
It's Spencer. "You're a spoiled brat and somebody oughta teach you a lesson," he growls. "Oh yeah?" I say. "Yeah," he says. "Well, in that case, Professor," I purr, "I'll be at Tiny's in the mall next to the Chuckwagon Buffet. 7:30. Maybe you'd like to drop by and show me your syllabus. I could use a laugh. Oh, PS — I do my best studying over a Stinger or three. And I never pay." Click.
My genius strategy was to type Vivien's name hundreds of times on a single sheet of paper. Surely this would catch the eye of those PBS philistines. Vivien Leigh Vivien Leigh Vivien Leigh, row after row of Vivien Leigh, I typed, like Jack Nicholson tapping out "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" in The Shining. Even in my delusional state, however, I registered the vibe of weirdness rising from the onionskin paper when I pulled it from the typewriter, and stowed the sheet away in a folder of creative writing fantasies sodden with melancholy, starring Miss Vivien Leigh.
Valerie strolled by again. I'd typed Jane so many times that the word no longer computed, producing a faint disorientation hinting at out-of-body experiences that I sort of enjoyed. Valerie's legs rubbed against one another in their pumps and I could hear her skirt grating against the frayed mesh of her tortured nylons. The carpeted office floor surged beneath me. I rose and grabbed my bag. I should take the edge off a little, maybe — it would help my productivity.
"Dude," I said compulsively, passing another temp in the hall as I raced to the bathroom. He looked away. I was quite possibly the most ludicrous person on earth, was I not? In the bathroom I swallowed a fistful of Tylenol #4s and adjusted the complicated winch-and-pulley system of my bra so that it might hoist my breasts into a more salable elevation. My aura was piss yellow, I felt smothered in my own vapor, an inert gas of vinegary poisons. I rinsed my forehead and leaned against the sink. I feel hot, I am sweating, my skin hangs sallow and flaccid in the fluorescent downpour from the buzzing light tubes. My shirt was simple but ugly. I sat down on a toilet and closed the stall. I opened a wee envelope and tapped a bit of the powder I'd scored from some shady street entity onto the back of my hand, onto the bridge of skin between thumb and forefinger which I enjoyed referring to as "the web of snorting." I did a bump of the powder, tapped out some more, did another. I sometimes felt I had to go into the bathroom to escape the bathroom, deeper and deeper into the bathroom to sniff up the drugs that would catapult me beyond the restroom-like confines of my mind, the petty yet viselike humiliation of runny noses and pee and other things I can't bring myself to mention, the shameful effluent of having been born.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Zipper Mouth"
Copyright © 2011 Laurie Weeks.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Movie: Of Human Bondage,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This novel was included in a category labeled “Humorous Novels” in a list of possible purchases I consulted. I suppose it is in fact humorous in a dark, cynical, life-is-miserable sense, but it seems essentially a 100-page uninterrupted monologue by a gay female narrator describing her life as a drug user and her interactions over a period of several years with assorted maladjusted people. The novel’s style reminded me a bit of that used by Henry Miller in his Tropics novels or by James Joyce’s Ulysses: short manic, psychedelic, vivid outbursts with descriptions of people, places, and experiences. It jumps back and forth in brief segments, in no obviously logical order, between the narrator’s ages of about 7 and 30. Several of the episodes in present time center on her friend Jane, also a drug user, on whom the narrator, as a gay female, has a strong but frustratingly unrequited, crush. I admire the author’s ability to create vivid word pictures, of the type undoubtedly experienced by someone under the influence of mind-expanding drugs. For example (p 79), the narrator is describing a painting: “…I see witches growing from a small hill or the top of a new-born planet, these witches are also trees. I see a sky with three wobbly objects like lavender clouds, green shadows sailing across the ground. Over the horizon a small tree or perhaps a yellow cloud on a brown stick, growing up from the curving earth. Incoming signals in origami packets, a translucent-winged insect named Jane sailing in on a paper boat.” Even though the novel seems highly regarded by important critics, if you are seeking a traditional novel with a linear plot development, this is not the book for you. Perhaps the work could better be thought of as the verbal equivalent of modern abstract art: splotches of color with interesting shapes but whose significance is not obvious to the unwashed viewer. I felt that the author is attempting to impart a message to readers but a message which I unfortunately am too dense or too vanilla to grasp.
I loved it! Laurie Weeks' writing drew me right in to the twisted rationality of the addicted mind. The main character is brilliant and clever and passionate and hopelessly addicted to every substance available and every girl she meets, even the straight ones. The character's apartment and her job and her social life come to light with hilarious clarity, illuminating the beautiful tragedies of urban life.
:((( why not? Sorry i took forever to reply my nook died :p