Laurie Weeks - A brilliant rabbit hole of pitch-black hilarity, undead obsession, the horror of the everyday, and drugs drugs drugs
Laurie Weeks, Zipper Mouth, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2011.
"In this extraordinary debut novel, Laurie Weeks captures the freedom and longing of life on the edge in New York City. Ranting letters to Judy Davis and Sylvia Plath, an unrequited fixation on a straight best friend, exalted nightclub epiphanies, devastating morning-after hangovers—Zipper Mouth chronicles the exuberance and mortification of a junkie, and transcends the chaos of everyday life."
"Laurie Weeks' Zipper Mouth is a short tome of infinitesimal reach, a tiny star to light the land."—Eileen Myles
"Zipper Mouth is a brilliant rabbit hole of pitch-black hilarity, undead obsession, the horror of the everyday, and drugs drugs drugs."—Michelle Tea
"Weeks’s brash, exuberant debut traces a young lesbian woman’s tortured, drug-addled, unrequited crush while living in New York City in edgier times. Hailing from a small farming community in the Midwest where she rejected the prevailing passions of “hunting and vacuuming,” the narrator, the daughter of an alcoholic father (“a drunken pork sausage”) who eventually died a violent death, gravitated to New York in her 20s, stumbled into odd jobs, heroin, and cocaine, and fell hopelessly in love with Jane, a savvy performance artist who happens to be straight—despite her ambiguous come-ons. This keeps the narrator in a feverish state of “fascinating and seductive interiority”; she’s drugged up, out of work, and obsessing, as her letter to actress Judy Davis clearly shows: “Though you look so calm and composed in your films, Judy, I suspect this to be a well-rehearsed defense mechanism.” The narrator is wracked by anxieties and is at home in the toxic landscape of 1980s lower Manhattan; drugs and alcohol both calm and stimulate her, lending the prose a psychotic compression that recalls Naked Lunch and imparts a fresh, lyrical sympathy to Week’s narrator. Dreamy, impressionistic, and rapturous, this brief volume is an ecstatic love story." - Publishers Weekly
"Laurie Weeks is a downtown personality from an earlier iteration of New York, a city of late-night performances in Avenue A boîtes and open-air drug bazaars a few dismal blocks away. A vibrant writer-performer, Weeks has enjoyed glints of recognition beyond the demimonde—an (uncredited) role writing the Boys Don’t Cry screenplay, pieces in the 1995 Semiotext(e) anthology The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading and the 2008 edition of Dave Eggers’s The Best American Non-required Reading. For years, though, anyone who knows of Weeks has heard about her novel in progress, the magnum opus, the thing that was eternally about to blow our minds.
Now, at long last, Zipper Mouth has arrived—and, perhaps suitably for a work so long in the making, it contains multitudes. In this slim, woozy volume of dense prose, one finds letters to movie stars, sidewalk heroin binges, e-mails between friends, and a bravura passage in which a teenage girl writes teeming letters to Sylvia Plath: “How can I be a madly brilliant artist with burning eyes and arms like sticks if I can’t even have a nervous breakdown!”
The narrator is a writer who finds flashes of inspiration in drugs, old movies on TV, and her apparently well-thumbed copy of Living Without a Goal. She spends most of her days hungover in a dingy East Village walk-up, its walls and floors crusted with dried pancake syrup and cat hair. Her answering machine, whose disembodied voices are usually reminding her that she has neglected to show up for a temp-job interview or to pay rent, makes her burrow deeper under the covers.
Her favorite drug buddy is Jane, a straight woman who doles out just enough ambiguity to keep the narrator hopelessly infatuated. The narrator’s desire, so excessively repeated, so doomed to failure, speaks to what is both so aggravating and so important about this book. Readers may well experience an unattainable wish of their own—for the narrator to pull herself together. The first scene of heroin-fueled rapture cuts abruptly to a rehab scene. Oh, we may think, she’s going to clean up. Then the dope-snorting resumes, and we realize that the rehab scene wasn’t a fast-forward; it was a flashback to one of many failed stints in recovery. By teasing us, and frustrating our wish to see the narrator move on—from drugs, from lethargy, from Jane—Weeks skillfully forces us to identify with the protagonist. The deferral of satisfaction also tosses us back, again and again, to the prose itself. Fantastically surprising and convincing images—“the abused mouths of my molecules,” “snickering tangerine suits,” “butterflies of black adrenaline”—are Pop Rocks strewn on almost every page: “I recalled walking, the manic golden night, stars blowing around like jacks in the sky. I was sick with longing.”
Near the end of the book, Weeks’s nonlinearity is given a vivid physical form: “My desires and options are autumn leaves, their leisurely spiral erratic with updrafts and dips, teasing feints and side swirls.” This organizing principle is operative, too, in the dérive-like wandering of the writing, as if the book had been composed in fragments, on different days, different notepads, different drugs. As such, its structure entails a faithful, almost vérité rendering of its narrator’s meandering life.
But there’s something bigger at work in the novel’s refusal of progress, all this basking in time-obliterating bodily pleasure for its own sake. Just in case we’re missing it, Weeks lays it out for us, riffing in fragmentary incantation: “A creative force much like an ongoing multiple girl orgasm, endlessly generative of possibility.” Zipper Mouth, in other words, is “feminine writing” as French feminist theorist Hélène Cixous posited it—a river continually overflowing its banks, untamable, ecstatic. By claiming this lineage, and by wedding deadened dependency to explicitly queer and disordered desires, Weeks has wrung from her long labors a provocative and layered narrative that is much more than just another drug novel." - Sara Marcus
"Momentum has a language, and in her long awaited debut novel Zipper Mouth (Feminist Press), Laurie Weeks speaks it fluidly. Every verb pops, and sentences fling themselves forward with colorful climax. In a slim 158 pages, there may not be a denouement—no coming of age, no epiphany, no peak accomplishment—but there is so much movement that to finish the book is to come to a dizzying halt. The novel tells the jarring love story of a strung out young dyke, traipsing around the squalor and beauty of New York in the mid 90s. Influenced by the manic pages of William S. Burroughs and Kathy Acker, among others, Zipper Mouth a magnetic narrative well worth the trip.
It would be easy to catalog Weeks’ novel with its peers on the tiny bookshelf of urban lesbian novels and memoirs, addled with drugs and girls. Weeks is already a name synonymous with them: her stories have been anthologized alongside Michelle Tea and Eileen Myles, she was a screenwriter for the film Boys Don’t Cry, has toured with queer poetry troupe Sister Spit, and is even one of the shouted Hot Topics in the Le Tigre song of the same name. Zipper Mouth is dynamic: this story isn’t being told in the heat of the moment with no time around it, but instead slips back and forth between childhood and the fucking up of the present life, giving the novel the breadth that just a few days in the life could not provide.
Scenes of a girl’s childhood (the “I” of the book remains nameless, sometimes seeming to be Weeks herself and sometimes not) set the reader up with just the right amount of identification with a character who later shoots up, makes messes, and fails with huge amounts of self deprecating humor. The first episode of longing Weeks describes is the girl’s teenage love of the actress Vivien Leigh, which then quickly leads to the novel’s main object of unrequited love: straight, straight Jane. Maybe this is the coming of age of Weeks’ novel: the all too frequent lesbian plunge into obsessive love with a straight woman. Weeks is flawless in embodying the way we spoke when we were young and reckless and in the jaws of love. When Jane calls the girl to say “I have to see you,” she sums up the sensation as so:
I’ve pursued a few girls; this is the luxurious part, when the friend thing begins to shift, slippage in the electrical impulses between you, waves start to oscillate in sync whether you know it or not, you’re on the phone, say, discussing whatever, and halfway through, say, a character-assassination sentence about someone, you realize you’ve slid through some portal into a delicious game of anticipation, so surprising although expected that you might drag it out a bit to be sure and you half want it to go forever but the tension’s unbearable and finally unsustainable, you hit the tipping point and Jane calls like you knew she would.
The taut novel maintains this tipping point throughout, the agonizing portrait of one girl screwing mercilessly with another girl’s heart, constantly on the brink with no resolution. She gives painfully careful attention to those intense moments of longing before the object of your desire is ever yours—if you’re ever lucky enough to even cross that line. But even with all of this tension, the story never suffocates. It’s cut with just enough fantasy, recounted dreams, letters to Sylvia Plath or Judy Davis, self-deprecation, lists such as “Times You Have Touched Me” and snaps of childhood. The book’s narrator is a greatly self-aware fuck up.
Especially in writing the life of a junkie: Zipper Mouth nails it all, from the ridiculous conversations when high, to the choke-hold obsession when looking to cop, and the absurd humor that comes when you’re not in it (in one scene where she and Jane are high Weeks writes of them “vomiting companionably.”) And while this grimy version of the city has been captured on the page over and over again, it’s also a New York that any lover of the urban will never grow tired of. “September light shattered against the cars,” she writes. “Sunlight showered down onto hubcaps, bike rims, chain-link fencing, aluminum cans. How best to use the gleaming day?”
The voice is infectious, especially in a short series of letters to Sylvia Plath, which pop up towards the end of the book. They begin: “Hi I am fourteen and I know you’re dead but it’s 1 a.m. and my dad is swearing and falling around in the pool like a drunken pork sausage.” Here’s the humor, the tragedy, the trajectory from who you were then to who you are now, all packed into a letter. The girl writes to Plath of how she felt to first read The Bell Jar, and for those of us who may have found our first selves in copies of Valencia or Blood And Guts In High School, we can relate: “For the first time I saw someone in a book portraying emotions that were exactly mine. I never even knew it was okay to write about them!” Oh, the teenage use of exclamation point: Weeks captures it all. And later: “Sylvia, there’s so much to express but it’s a school night.” It’s a place every lonely, hungry teenager has been.
The book’s pulse is evident on every page, catapulting itself forward. Pop culture’s current nostalgia for the 90s makes it a good a time as ever to debut such a slicing portrait of that time. It’s a novel that has been well worth the wait." - Courtney Gillette
"If you loved Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, or have a taste for the mid-20th century postmodern novel (Burroughs, Thompson) whose surreal-like prose portrays the drugged-hazed consciousness of its protagonist, then you will definitely take pleasure in reading Laurie Weeks’s debut novel, Zipper Mouth, published by the Feminist Press.
In this slim volume (less than 200 pages), Weeks plunges her reader into the grungy, NYC world of the 1990s, fueled by drugs, alcohol, and various unsatisfiable hungers (sexual and otherwise). It is a seemingly pseudo-memoir, with Weeks’s narrative flow coursing in and out of comprehensible consciousness (concurrent with the ebb-and-flow of the protagonist’s many drug-induced states). The protagonist’s obsession with getting high is matched only by her obsession with her best friend, Jane, who is heterosexual (although, there are times within the novel that Jane suggests she is heteroflexible—of course, the drugs could be held accountable for this occasional “flexible” state).
Scattered between this present-day narrative are periodic flashbacks presented as hazy memories or, most enjoyably, in childhood letters to notable figures like Sylvia Plath and Judy Davis:
Dear Ms. Plath:
….God, poetry is HARD. Trying to find the perfect way to express the visions trapped inside me is like being a tiny bird pecking against the stone mountain of eternity. How can I be a mad brilliant artist with burning eyes and arms like sticks if I can’t even have a nervous breakdown!Zipper Mouth is praiseworthy for its refusal of denouement—tragic, carthartic, or otherwise. The narrative simply ends, and our only assumption can be that the protagonist continues on her impulsive, self-destructive path that always only, and just only, skirts death.
Similarly, Bookforum observes how the novel, particularly through its form and prose style, is the embodiment of écriture feminine:
But there’s something bigger at work in the novel’s refusal of progress, all this basking in time-obliterating bodily pleasure for its own sake…. Weeks lays it out for us, riffing in fragmentary incantation: “A creative force much like an ongoing multiple girl orgasm, endlessly generative of possibility.” Zipper Mouth, in other words, is “feminine writing” as French feminist theorist Hélène Cixous posited it—a river continually overflowing its banks, untamable, ecstatic. By claiming this lineage, and by wedding deadened dependency to explicitly queer and disordered desires, Weeks has wrung from her long labors a provocative and layered narrative that is much more than just another drug novel.
Zipper Mouth is a quick read, although, at times, the “untamable” nature of the prose seems more of a hindrance than a lucid vehicle used to depict the chaos that saturates and inevitably comes to define the protagonist’s life." - Marcie Bianco
The Rumpus Book Club Interviews Laurie Weeks