So Many Ways To Sleep Badly
by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
City Lights Books
A MiniBook Expo review (go get yours today!)
Do you like your books to be complete, tidy, well laid out journeys? Do you like your story to unfold like releasing a master class origami swan with a hidden message tucked neatly inside the folds of paper? Do you like a dramatic or comedic build and then have all the pieces fall neatly into place 5 pages before the end?
Fuck off. Go get a Grisham.
So Many Ways To Sleep Badly is a memoir (Autobio? Loveletter? Suicide note?) to the sub-gay scene in San Francisco over a period of three years from 2001, when America went on the “offensive”. When I say “sub-gay” I’m lumping in several non-Will And Grace style homo categories, such as subversive queer punks that protest the homogeneity of Gay Pride Parades, stinky closeted Craigslist trolls, gender flipping transsexuals and sex trade workers with fibromyalgia.
Our hero(ine), our star, our beauty queen, the gender/race-fucking Mattilda, weaves a typical year in her(his) life through a barrage of stream of consciousness style writing that is so resonate, so vivid and yet at moments very ethereal, that there is no question that the cock (s)he is sucking does smell like disappointment and unfulfillable desire. SMWtSB is written with a delicate hand that within a sentence, will backhand you into a miserable sex hookup. So those with a weak constitution/morals system should be prepared to be appalled at her/his behaviour. Those who are more freer with their sensibilities will find a good laugh per page (and may identify with some situations). Mattilda will jump from describing a delicious dish (s)he rises in the middle of the night to eat, to a sexual exploit that had me spitting Dr Pepper through my nose:
I decide to come on my food – Jeremy never did it for me. It’s 3 a.m. pasta, and I’m on the phone sex line, whoops, I got disconnected. Over to the other one, and this guy can’t do it right, but I’m playing anyway. I shoot right into the pasta while it’s sitting demurely in the sink: scallions, string beans, bean sprouts, cilantro, lemon, tamari, rice vinegar – and come. I can’t really taste it.
Behind the outrageousness, there is tidbits of a darker Mattilda that peeks through, but, in my opinion, not enough for my liking. With fragmented memories and dreams dropped between yoga class descriptions, we get glimpses of child abuse and a romance that approaches respectable, making her the self made superstar she is in the book (I’m sticking with the feminine from here on in). But with no resolution, no closure to her “worn on her sleeve” pain, I’m left kind of empty – like cruising Craigslist at 4 a.m. I guess if she had supplied closure that would be conforming to a comfortable idea of a “novel”, something SMWtSP isn’t. SMWtSB reads more like a blog entries written without accepting the idea of the “last post” (and where art imitates life, her blog continues in the same vein but with more cohesive posts).
SMWtSB isn’t for the feint of heart. It’s explicit and hard to follow and makes as much sense as that guy wearing plastic bags on the subway you sat beside this morning. But if you don’t read it, you will miss out on some beautiful imagery, some hilarious social commentary and the possibility your horizons won’t be expanded.