Warning: light spoilers and quotes ahead. CW for eating disorders.
There is always the point at which a story changes. A good story must always change its terms.
I want to reach through the years and tell the women I’ve been lonely.
I can do things like that when I write- pluck any thread of want and weave a whole world.
Exactly one year ago, I read Melissa Febos‘ Abandon Me for the first time. And if you have ever talked to me for more than 30 seconds, you’ve heard me gush about that book- how much it transformed me as a reader, writer, and human being; how much it moved me, worked itself into my brain and became a part of my DNA, building itself into the architecture of my body. This year, now that I’ve read another gorgeously written queer girl memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (which, fittingly, is blurbed by Melissa Febos, among a slew of other writer heroes including Genevieve Hudson and Lauren Groff), I can only conclude that March is my lucky month. Because *wow.*
I’m floored by this (debut?!) memoir that defies easy categorization or linear movement, that will dip your whole body into the butterfly-clips-and-pink-sofa-nineties, that is brimming with pain and glistening with longing, that delivers electric sentences and intense imagery. The writing in this book is bold and vulnerable, the voice distinct, the language at once easy to read and unlike anything I’ve read before. Maybe it’s the emotional hangover I’m in in the immediate aftermath of having finished it (giving it my early morning hours and an entire Saturday afternoon and sneaking pages at work until I was done), but this book has me feeling tender and grateful. Also, I haven’t dog-eared and marked up a book this much since… well, probably Abandon Me, ha.
The ways in which Madden experiences longing are layered. For example, in Show Name, she writes about all the places she doesn’t want to die, which juxtaposes against her desire to disappear:
What I wanted was my freckled cheeks printed on cheap paper, stapled at the ears, the flyers torn from telephone poles and the scales of palm trees, a sliver of my face left flapping in the wind… To get gone. I wanted the beauty of the doomed. Missing girls are never forgotten, I thought, so long as they don’t show up dead. So long as they stay missing.
In one of my favorite essays (as if I could choose), Can I Pet Your Back, a 2-page gut-punching litany of the places where, and means by which, Madden “found pretty” as a queer teenager, her longing feels urgent and her desire a circus of contradictions. It is visceral and glows with truth:
I found pretty in boys calling me hot. I found pretty in calling girls hot. I found pretty in calling girls fat. I found pretty in calling girls sluts. Girls.
I found pretty in… the way neighborhood boys beat [my mom’s] hummingbird mailbox with golf clubs, slowly, so that one wing dangled, then both, then the beak; now, only the body is left. I found pretty in the swirl of my lunch from my mouth into toilet bowls, and in the spots of light I’d see when I’d blink away hunger.
I file Fatherless Girls and Abandon Me in my brain as queer memoirs because their authors are queer and that identity is an important part of the content of both books. But these books aren’t about being queer. They’re about people. Fatherless Girls is not a romance (though there is some), it’s not a coming out narrative (though there’s a little of that too); it’s about a girl figuring out the legacies that live in her body as well as the way she experiences pleasure, pain, and desire in that body.
That said, both Fatherless Girls and Abandon Me contain in their pages some of the sweetest most beautiful lesbian moments I’ve ever read, and I don’t want to leave that out of this review. I think that deserves a shoutout, and also now you know that if you’re like me and seek out really awesome books that happen to have queerness in them, both of these are fantastic choices.
Madden probes into deep dark places in herself, her family, her herstory, and comes up with actual glittering gold. I say herstory for a reason. The concept of family may seem to be rooted in the patriarch, given that the title has the word “father” in it, but this book is about women. The grief Madden goes through in the wake of her father’s death actually serves to further the female narrative. Not that he’s unimportant; quite the opposite. But the real guts of the story are the women’s.
Do yourself the favor of picking this up. And if you do, let me know what you think, and also let me know if you’ve read Abandon Me !
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own. I am also an IndieBound affiliate- if you buy any of the books mentioned via clicking on the links provided, I receive a small commission that helps support this blog. Thank you!