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Wednesday, May 15, 2002

A Girl’s Life

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2002 at 12:00 AM

You could either sit there biting your nails to the quick, counting the days till the fat envelope comes in — or else take meds at appointed intervals and let the puzzle of your life fall where it may. Or if you’re running late and trip over the porthole, you might cancel all thoughts of pushing “their” buttons. So long, lucky puppy! But in the end, when the close-up frames the bundle in your arms, you just smile like you landed a “Z” on a triple-score word. A Girl’s Life — magic writing pad full of dynamite, creeps, girls with raspberry lips, “expired expectations” and “deer caught in the headlines” — has you jumping for joy.

This is the book you not only want to have written, you actually dreamed it and here it comes in its all-powerful drollery, complete with beepers and rabbit holes, scrumptious color and crazy lines. Johanna Drucker and Susan Bee have invented a visually saturated text that is absolutely irresistible, both in concept and presentation. It will dazzle and delight readers of all ages, forever consigning sentimental versions of girlie stuff to the doghouse. These girls rock!

Imagine two very avant artists playing dollhouse with the charged codes of adolescence. The result, neither autobiography nor romance, resembles a “Real World” scrapbook — I’ll write the words, you do the graphics — put through the wringer of a pomo imagination, running ecstatic between “the sweet material of girls’ dreams” and the lemon-squeeze fun puckering a language savvy with wit and irony.

“Becki offered Ivan a guy-tested phrase.”

It’s as if the teen world we know from popular culture was at once reflected on (each page bursting with gender cliché, from the blonde bombshell of King Kong to the little bridesmaid) and taken apart, one clever sentence at a time. We get the raw and the cooked, the house and the kit to dismantle it, and nary a word a 15-year-old wouldn’t know.

What runs through like a sequined border is the authors’ refusal to prefer one psych wardrobe to another. In this dress-up anti-genre, collage replaces identity, which careens over crime or glam as so many outfits in a day’s work. The dazzling design underscores artifice and pastiche, which are requisite accessories to the angst of growing female under global skies.

“A car screeched onto the pavement. No men stepped out.”

Instead, the text simulates synchrony where Becki and Dawn, friends for life, “twist the rope of affection” and roll their eyes across the screen of their ever-changing melodrama.

“Lived between paradise and compromise, a girl’s life is never performed completely unawares.”

It’s precisely the erotic self-consciousness of performing identity which charges this little adolescent primer with such a killer humor, where shooting a furious glance or a lethal blow are both apprehended as gender scripts and narrative sentences for which we need a suitable typeface, maybe something green and glossy. A Girl’s Life is a riot of intelligence and girl power whose authors, both celebrated book artists, have scored a perfect 10 with this designer’s little heaven. Like all impulse items, it should be stacked by hundreds near the register. A must-have!

E-mail Chris Tysh at


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