Some novels you immerse yourself in, others you climb. Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl is a powerful wave to be ridden, a joyful and emotional high.
It’s 1993 and Paul is a young queer slacker finding himself through sex, mixtapes, zines and friendship. But he’s got a secret, Paul can shift gender and alter his body shape almost at will, a power he uses to get laid as often as possible. He finds and loses love, friendship and community along the way, as a gay punk, as a vegan femme, as a naïve pansexual flirt and flaneur.
Paul’s journey is a cultural survey of early-90s queer America, from Riot grrrl to Cobain’s death, from Falcon videos to New Queer Cinema, from Deneuve in The Hunger to Divine in Pink Flamingos. Road tripping from the Mid-West to New York, Provincetown and San Francisco, our hero/ine - like Woolf’s Orlando - finds himself in the right place at the right time.
Paul’s pursuit of love, knowledge and experience takes us on a coming-of-age adventure full of seamless genre- and gender-bending twists, and author Andrea Lawlor navigates the landscape with confidence, shifting tonal gears effortlessly from euphoria to heartbreak, from grief to hope.
Occasionally it’s a melancholy voyage through poverty, disinheritance and the ravages of an unchecked AIDS epidemic. But it’s also a revelatory revisionist fantasy of sorts, especially if you came of age then. Imagine traveling back in time to those formative years knowing what we know now, what we’ve learned from two decades of queer and gender studies.
A composite perhaps of all our queer selves, Paul (sometime Polly) finds his sense of self in pleasure, he knows what he wants, but only in the moment. As queerdom itself comes of age, Lawlor asks – and then what? Those of us who survived, what do we want now?
This smart, witty, hilarious, smutty, romantic novel gives the reader permission to imagine a world of our own queer making, one that seeks not to ape the flawed institutions of heteronormative patriarchy, but to take our sexual liberation and gender revolution to its next realm – a fairytale kingdom of fluid identities and sexualities where we can truly be who we are, only more so.