Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pink Smog by Francesca Lia Block


Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block is a prequel, arguably long overdue, for her seminal Weetzie Bat book, the first of the Dangerous Angels series.  I say that this prequel has been a long time coming because a sequel, A Necklace of Kisses, came out several years ago.  Clearly, the character of Weetzie won’t leave her author alone any more than she will her readers.  She’s easy to fall in love with and the opportunity to revisit this character in different stages of her life is irresistible.   And while I both liked and disliked this novel, I want to begin with what I dislike.

Immediately  upon reading the first page I was taken aback by Block’s choice to write in the first person.  Neither of the previous Weetzie Bat books was written from her point of view. This shift in narrative voice held both a lot of promise and a potential to be problematic.  I was, truth be told, excited to her Weetzie tell her own story in her own voice because much of her personality sparkled in how she spoke.  Such phrases as "lanky lizards" and "slinkster" and even "Secret Agent Lover Man" revealed a quirkiness of character that defined Weetzie, her way of being, of living, of thinking. 

So imagine my disappointment in this younger Weetzie's voice and how it was completely devoid of any quirkiness.  Poetic and often lavish in her descriptions, she was lacking in any syntax that set her apart as the Weetzie of later novels.  Her personality, in fact, was simply not there.

One could argue that this novel, being a prequel, is telling the story of a younger and less self-actualized Weetzie.  However, I remember being thirteen and being sixteen and there were rudimentary parts of my later persona which were taking root when I was in my very early teens already evident.  These would not fully bloom until later, even decades later, but they were there.  The idiomatic language that I still find myself blurting  out, the sense of how I move and dress.  Even at thirteen these things were beginning to emerge as I moved through a variety of definitions that were to become "Satia."

I could not find Weetzie in this novel. 

Somewhere along the way, I released this need altogether and read the novel as if it were completely different from the others, telling the story of a different character altogether.  When I did this, when I divorced it from its sequels, the novel worked as well as many of Block's other forays into young adult magical realism.  From the very first pages the reader feels a sympathy or even empathy for Louisa/Weetzie , who is struggling with the separation and immanent divorce of her parents--Charlie and Brandie Lynn.  She is also dealing with the usual frustrations of the final years of middle school before moving onto high school.  She is lost, lonely, and set adrift in a world that is beyond her control.  Her only hope is to somehow find meaning and at least understand what is happening.  In her search, a sort of psychological quest, she meets other people who are either friends or foes, she cannot tell.  She cannot even be certain that they are not merely figments of her imagination and yet she does the best she can in the face of so many possibilities and unanswered questions.

As a prequel to the other Weetzie Bat books this novel is a disappointment.  On its own merit, it may be one of the better novels Block has written in the past few years.  No doubt, it lends itself to a Jungian analysis but it is written for an audience unlikely to know anything about archetypes or shadows.  In that respect, it is quite possible that Pink Smog could even stand as a modern metaphor.  At the least, it holds strong as a coming-of-age novel, even if it is weak in pure Weetzie magic.  

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