28 February 2012

Tournament of Books '12: GREEN GIRL: It's not that easy

I took an entire literature class in college on the making of modern urban literature and the idea of the flâneur, the person observing the city and him- or herself becoming part of its landscape in going about that observation. Kate Zambreno's GREEN GIRL clearly wants to hold to that tradition with its interspersed quotes from Walter Benjamin and Jean Rhys (whose GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT portrays a flâneuse like Zambreno's) and its portrayal of a woman whose job forces her to be part of that city.

The titular GREEN GIRL is Ruth, an American in London working as a perfume sprayer in a department store she has nicknamed "Horrids." Living in a small and dirty apartment, being casually hazed by the well-coiffed mean girls who run the makeup department, nurturing a crush on the one straight male coworker everyone likes, Ruth seems to lack more ambition than just a generalized feeling that things ought to be going better for her. She covets everything, but behind that longing is a desire for experience, relying on others -- more street-smart, more outgoing, taking greater risk -- to show it to her.

I wouldn't say I disliked GREEN GIRL, but it felt sort of unfinished to me. I wasn't waiting for a major plot twist, but I felt like the conceit was very tidy and self-contained and after a while began to re-tread the same territory it had covered. There's a thread about Ruth's previous life, back in the U.S., that doesn't get picked up, and another about her love of the movies -- in fact she debates whether to get the "Rosemary's Baby" haircut or the "Breathless," which as everyone knows look very similar but aren't. I grew frustrated with Ruth and her frozenness in this kind of unstable situation, not only as a foreigner trying to fit in but also as a young-ish person -- it's not clear exactly how old -- who is operating below her water level. (Actually, it was the same kind of frustration I felt reading GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT, so maybe it's just me?) The roles that Ruth tries on are derivative, even she knows that, but her story doesn't have to be.

ToB First-Round Opponent: THE MARRIAGE PLOT, which I believe will go forward in the tournament (and should).

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