Monday, December 24, 2007

Bottle Rocket Hearts

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall (Cormorant Books 2007)

Zoe Whittall’s first novel is a simple story. Girl meets girl. Girl loses girl. Girl wins girl back again. Girl realizes aforementioned girl was no good for her in the first place. Girl leaves girl, once and for all.

Essentially, Bottle Rocket Hearts is a coming of age story set in Montreal in the mid-nineties, complicated by the sexuality of its protagonist. Eve’s in love for the first time with the wrong girl and she gets her heart broken. After a brief, precarious rapprochement, she patches it up again and moves on, "soft and furious."

There’s a lot of clubbing, drinking, some drugs, some more drugs, a little more clubbing. The plot itself is not overly compelling. Told from the first person, in a more than convincing late adolescent voice, the story of Eve’s heartbreak can sometimes be a little claustrophobic, like watching someone pick at a scab.

The narrative does, however, scratch the surface of several deeper issues, such as senseless violence against women/homosexuals, or the ravage of AIDS amongst the queer community. There’s a brief comparison of Quebec’s search for identity with Eve’s own personal quest. But these threads run close to the surface. Ultimately, they are the backdrop to failed love.

Whittall is a talented writer. And that talent is most evident in the minutiae – thumbnail sketches of iridescent detail, like photographs taken in harsh light. Her writing has teeth. It bites. Hard. Upon finding her girlfriend in bed with someone else, Eve feels "a quick incision between her seventh and eighth ribs ... then several quick kisses with a staple gun to [her] gum-line...a sock in the teeth for good measure."

On another occasion Eve stops by a strip-club for the first time to meet a friend. Once inside, she feels "like a raggedy kindergarten teacher with finger paint on her face. Totally asexual. Like a houseplant."

There is also a brief funeral scene which, more than any other episode in the novel, captures what it means to be young and gay and struggling for identity. "There is a rift between family and friends in the church, a weirdness that comes when your closest family has no idea who your closest friends are. Two camps that loved the same person separately, like there were two funerals happening at once."

The author’s insight and acuity in these situations bode well for the future. Bottle Rocket Hearts is an intriguing debut.

1 comment:

John Mutford said...

I find most coming-of-age stories a little short on plot. That said, I still enjoy them from time to time, and seeing as this one comes from a perspective I've not yet come across in the genre, I'll check it out for sure.