Michelle Tea is one of those writers whose work has always punched me in the gut. She doesn't write pretty, she has no distance, her characters may act in an ironic fashion, but her stories never are.
The book starts out as a seeming memoir. For people who have read Tea in the past (Valencia, The Chelsea Whistle, How To Grow Up, etc) some of this ground seems familiar. A character named Michelle who grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts and moved to San Francisco. Then the character moves to Los Angeles and the narrative takes a turn. It's 1999 and the narrative becomes a tale of the end of the world. Which is also about the end of a relationship. Which is also about alcoholism and addiction. It's also about love.
The character of Michelle is a writer and the book is very interested in storytelling and what it means. She ponders about making her story and experiences "universal" - because they aren't, by literary standards, because she's a woman and queer. And of course she's making a point - and it's a very good point - but I remember thinking throughout how familiar so much of the story was. From the observations about working in a bookstore, about living in Los Angeles, the strangeness of seeing celebrities in casual locations, living in a small studio apartment, unease with off color wall to wall carpeting, walking hungover. I repeatedly kept thinking how she perfectly nailed so many moments and so many feelings and experiences. Of course I'm not an alcoholic and never did as many drugs as Michelle did. I also didn't have as much sex as she did, either. (I'm not proud of that last point, it's just a fact)
I can't spoil the ending, but I will say that my favorite moments appear near the end of the book. One is Michelle's encounter with Ashley. And I will be honestly, I felt the wind knocked out of me by the end of that chapter.
And then not many pages later, Chapter 26 left me breathless, but in a different way for different reasons. "the ocean streaming from her eyes." This moment of great beauty in the face of everything going on.
Black Wave is Michelle Tea's best book to date and it is an immense work. A great addition to the canon of great Los Angeles disaster literature. A great book about the end of the world.
Right now we're overwhelmed with books depicting humanity sliding into destruction. It's a trend that's becomes more exhausting and annoying and cliche-ridden every year and I can't wait for it to end. Mostly because these books have so little to say about human nature and society and the state of the world. Well Michelle Tea's Black Wave is a book about the end of the world that actually has something to say about people and humanity and the world. It is a beautiful, moving, amazing book and I cannot wait to reread it.