Pulp by Robin Talley
3.5 out of 5 stars
Out 13th November 2018
**I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in return for a review**
It’s 1955 and Janet Jones is biding her time before college starts waiting tables and hanging out with her best friend, Marie. Janet knows exactly what her future holds – college, and then settling down with a nice man and starting a family. She is, after all, the good catholic daughter of a politician. It’s what’s expected. Except is isn’t what Janet wants. Janet wants to know why she thinks of Marie all the time. Janet wants to know why the thought of marrying a man and starting a family fills her with dread. After a chance encounter at a bus station with a salacious pulp novel, Janet finally has a better idea.
It’s 2017 and out-and-proud Abby is just trying to get through her last year at high school, but nothing is going right. Her president is sending the country down the hole, her parents seem to have forgotten she exists, and her ex-girlfriend seems oblivious to the fact that Abby is still in love with her. The only thing getting Abby through this mess is her discovery of a 50’s lesbian romance novel called Women of the Twilight Realm. Despite its success, author Marion Love mysteriously disappeared and never wrote again. Abby knows there has to be more to Marion’s story, and she sets out to discover the truth.
Told through dual perspectives, Pulp explores life as a young lesbian in two very different eras, and the challenges young women faced in the quest to live authentically.
Janet’s story was the most affecting for me. Set against the backdrop of the Lavender Scare, it was incredibly suspenseful and I spent the whole time waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like Abby, people love the 50’s for it’s style and aesthetic, but I, at least, didn’t really understand the culture of fear, distrust and hate permeating throughout. Of course I’ve read The Crucible and of course I knew about McCarthyism and Jim Crow and the likes but I don’t think I really understood the affect it had on a personal scale until I lived it through Janet’s eyes. Despite being so far removed from life now, Janet’s experiences and reactions felt so realistic and relatable. Her story was scary and heart-wrenching and beautiful and I loved every page.
I didn’t have the same connection with Abby’s story, though I appreciated it for it’s contrast with the 1955 story line. Where Janet’s short hair and penchant for pants were small rebellions for her time, Abby and her brigade of LGBTQI+ identifying friends habitually attended protests and rallies to fight for a better life in very overt ways. Abby is romantic and obsessive and dramatic, and I suppose all that is part of being a teenager. I didn’t find Abby a particularly likeable character, but that fault is probably with me. I’m out of touch. Kids these days, you know? I think my biggest problem with Abby and her story is everything about it felt very didactic. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I found myself rolling my eyes at her and her friends, and there was at least one instance that felt like it was lifted from one of those fake Tumblr stories. Though I did appreciate the modern story providing a break from Janet’s often very intense chapters.
I think my favourite thing by far in this book was reading descriptions of some of the early pulp novels explored in the story. My favourite being Satan was a Lesbian. While they have cringy titles, covers and tag lines by today’s standards, Pulp shows that their impact on past generations shouldn’t be erased.
Pulp doesn’t fit in with my regular fantasy and science fiction reads, and I don’t tend to enjoy dual perspective/dual era novels. But that doesn’t matter – I’m not the target audience for this book. My workplace is looking to add some titles to the LGBTQI+ shelves, and since we have limited space and budget for new books we try to make sure every one is a valuable addition to the collection. I already know it’s going to be a popular one with the students. While not universal, I’m sure Abby and Janet’s experiences, fears and dreams will strike a cord with a number of young girls and women and I appreciate the book for that. Overall I found this book really engaging and informative and I look forward to our work’s copy hitting the shelves!