Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Weetzie Bat

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block is a Young Adult novel and #1 in the Dangerous Angels series. First published in 1989 is something of a cult classic in North America and I first learned of it via some friends across the pond. A few months ago I was very much aware of the controversy surrounding a Christian group's legal claim demanding the right to publicly burn a copy of Baby Be-Pop, the fifth book in the series. After reading Nymeth's review this week of the series I decided to finally pick my unread copy of Weetzie Bat off the shelf. Further reviews of the subsequent Dangerous Angels books will follow in due course when I borrow them from the library; I don't own them although their bright colours would make wonderful additions to my coloured shelves.

The eponymous Weetzie Bat lives in a surreal Los Angeles, aptly referred to as Shangri-L.A., that is at once the 1980s punk glam era mixed with glamorous 1950s Hollywood with components from an undetermined dreamland. 102 pages follow Weetzie and Dirk -her gay best friend- in their quest for love or, as Block's slang calls it, a "duck" each. They also suffer loss and Weetzie is gifted a genie in a lamp who grants her the obligatory three wishes, which prompts a highly amusing exchange.

Weetzie could see him - it was a man, a little man in a turban, with a jewel in his nose, harem pants, and curly-toed slippers.
'Lankie lizards!' Weetzie exclaimed.
'Greetings,' said the man in an odd voice, a rich, dark purr.
'Oh, shit!' Weetzie said.
'I beg your pardon? Is that your wish?'
'No! Sorry, you just freaked me out.'
'I am the genie of the lamp, and I am here to grant you three wishes,' the man said.
Weetzie began to laugh, maybe a little hysterically.

Weetzie's wishes come true, to an extent, and her and Dirk find their ducks and all live in a house together but not happily ever after. Weetzie has a baby fathered by Dirk and his lover and they become an unconventional -yet happy- family. Block's magical plot tackles serious and thought-provoking themes; she progressively engages with homosexuality, AIDS, abortion, and the postmodern family. In terms of subject matter and the interesting cast of characters I could see Weetzie Bat as a young adult's version of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin; it was entirely plausible to me that these characters could later move to 28 Barbery Lane and live under the caring eye of Mrs Madrigal.

Block's world is highly original and exceedingly quirky; her language and use of pretend colloquialisms is unique yet believable. Some of the content is cutesy and saccharine but interspersed with emotive sections that balance the narrative, ensuring it doesn't come across as overly twee. I enjoyed Block's writing style although some of it -like Weetzie's "Lankie lizards" exclamation above- is a little much; other examples are novel and create beautiful images. I enjoyed my brief glimpse into the curiously dark fairy-tale world of Weetzie Bat etc. and plan to visit again soon.

A couple of passages that I particularly liked:

A kiss about apple pie à la mode with the vanilla creaminess melting in the pie heat. A kiss about chocolate, when you haven't eaten chocolate in a year. A kiss about palm trees speeding by, trailing pink clouds when you drive down the Strip sizzling with champagne. A kiss about spotlights fanning the sky and the swollen sea spilling like tears all over your legs.

Weetzie was pregnant. She felt like a Christmas package. Like a cat full of kittens. Like an Easter basket of pastel chocolate-malt eggs and solid-milk-chocolate bunnies, and yellow daffodils and doll-house-sized jelly-bean eggs.


Nymeth said...

It sounds like I should keep an eye out for Tales of the City! Some of the expressions were indeed a bit too much, but then there were passages so beautiful that I just had to forgive Block.

Paperback Reader said...

Oh Ana, you really must! I love the Tales of the City series.
I feel exactly the same; I would forgive most things for some of those exquisite passages.

Eva said...

As I said on Nymeth's blog, I loved this series when I was younger, so now I want to read Tales of the City too!

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of the Tales of the City series so think that these could be very interesting. I will keep my eyes peeled at the library in the futire, thanks for letting me know about these Claire.

Paperback Reader said...

Eva, I love the Maupin series. When Dirk and Duck are in San Francisco in WB I was so strongly reminded of TotC.

Simon, they certainly make an interesting comparison although a far more surreal than Maupin (murders and cults aside).

farmlanebooks said...

I've never heard of this series before, or Tales of the City. I'm not convinced they're for me though. Perhaps you'll persuade me when you review the rest of the series.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I don't think they are either. The Tales of the City books are fabulous but they may be a little too bizarre for you and so far Dangerous Angels is definitely bizarre!

DreamCyn said...

I just started a blog about the Weetzie Bat books (as well as the rest of FLB's books), and about how beautiful they are and what kind of influence I think they could have on life.
Great review!

Paperback Reader said...

DreamCyn, my blog has actually moved to