Rose of No Man's Land

By Michelle Tea.MacAdam/Cage, $22.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

It’s hard to recall, without looking, which of Michelle Tea’s previous books—including The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America and Valencia—were “novels” and which were “memoirs.” Either way, they crumpled up any notion of what shape either genre is supposed to have. Tea has too many joy-riding tales of messed-up dykes on the lam to be shoehorned into a single neat arc.

At first, her new novel, Rose of No Man’s Land, seems less eventful. Narrator Trisha, of working-class Massachussetts suburb Mogsfield, usually keeps to herself, drinking beer alone in her room. The narrative, though livened with Tea’s light sardonicisms, reflects the lethargy that Trisha, at 14, has come to accept as her mode of existence. But during a humiliating attempt to hold down a job at the mall, Trisha falls under the spell of the daring Rose, of whom Trisha thinks that “it had never, ever occurred to her to give a fuck.” And soon enough, Rose pulls Trisha into a night of the intense experiences that Tea so excels at relating.

It seems authentic because Tea largely draws imagery from the things of Trisha’s crappy world (for instance, she likens the sensation of snorting speed to spraying aerosol Christmas-tree snow up your nose). In doing so, she shows how exquisitely dense with feeling that world really is. Tea gives an epic treatment to the humblest objects and moments, mirroring the mixture of the grandiose and abject in Trisha and Rose’s adventures, climaxing in an amorous rampage through a Chinese restaurant and crashing, heartrendingly, in a tattoo parlor.

It is a shock to recall, as the hurricane of comedy, tragedy and desire hurtles toward landfall and dissipation—dawn—that this book takes place in a single night. Tea has transcended the picaresque form of her past books and achieved something new: She’s packed her narrative fury into a single fateful day in the life of a girl.—Jonathan Taylor