May 13, 2017

Family, Genus, Species; by Kevin Allardice

There's a lot packed into this very slim book's pages, and I was extremely impressed by all of it. Vee, our heroine, is at her nephew's birthday party in the Berkeley hills. Though her relationship with her sister is strained, she adores little Charlie and can't wait until he sees the magnificent dinosaur model she brought him. It starts out funny and sort of sweet, and then shit starts hitting the fan, and then abruptly escalates.

The layers in this novella are many, but the one I found most captivating is the theme of self-narration. We are all the protagonist in our own story; to others, we are bit characters, sidekicks, nemeses, and so forth, but never the main character. And since no one can read another's mind or truly step into their shoes, we tell ourselves stories about each of these other players in our lives. An example: Vee and her boyfriend ended their first date at her sister's Christmas party, drunkenly getting it on in a back room. During the act, someone walks in on them; Vee goes limp but her boyfriend keeps going; the door quickly closes again. To Vee, this is a split second of the day she met the man she later fell in love with. To the person who walked in on them, it looked an awful lot like rape. A rape that person then proceeded to ignore, which ate at him enough so that he felt the need to approach Vee at the birthday party and tell her what he saw and insist that he's a good guy because he's telling her that right now. To that man, Vee and this possible rape he witnessed is a story in his own life, not hers, one that he can refer to to illuminate something he feels is in his character, to make him feel better about himself.

I was especially impressed with Allardice's commentary on the fat woman as a sexual being. Vee is fat, and knows this well. She's used to men fetishizing her body while ignoring the person inside it, and aware that women who fall outside the very narrow spectrum of socially acceptable beauty are expected to be grateful for sexual attention. From these men's perspectives, too, her experience holds no value on its own, and to insist otherwise would be to violate their sense of self.

All this runs underneath a pretty brutal satire of white hipsters in the Bay Area, who cultivate their urban farms with honest intent but leave the people with whom they share their city to flounder, be marginalized, murdered. And then of course the book is quite funny in parts, proving again how multifaceted this novella is. I look forward to reading more from Kevin Allardice.

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