In other literary-geek news, I recently read one of the worst books I've ever read in my life. Not so much in the sense of "so bad it was torture," though; more in the sense of "so bad it was hilarious" (although there was some torture too, at times). I found it at Sacramento's queer bookstore, The Open Book, which is (tragically) going out of business, and therefore selling all their books very cheaply. I only bought this one because its author, Anna Livia, was also the coauthor of a nonfiction book I like called Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. I hadn't known she wrote novels. I was probably better off not knowing. But since I've bothered to read the whole nonsensical thing, you get to hear about it now.
Anna Livia's novel Minimax tells the story of a lesbian named Minnie who lives in contemporary Britain and who falls in love . . . with Natalie Clifford Barney. Somehow, incomprehensibly, Minnie has managed to read at least one of Natalie Clifford Barney's books without ever figuring out that Natalie Clifford Barney has been dead for decades. Minnie writes a fan letter to Natalie and mails it - to the publisher's address, I guess. Even more incredibly, this letter gets delivered to Natalie herself. It turns out, you see, that Natalie Clifford Barney is a vampire. (Okay, this would have been enough right there to ensure that I would hate the book, because I invariably hate absolutely anything involving vampires. But there was a lot more wrong with this particular book than just Natalie Clifford Barney being a vampire.) So anyway, Natalie the vampire sends Minnie a reply. It says: "Come. I must meet you." Nothing else. No address to come to, either.
Minnie has no money to go anywhere, even if she had an address to know where to go to. Conveniently, however, Minnie's mother, who lives in Australia, suddenly has a great deal of money, due to having recently been hired - by an incredibly bizarre coincidence - by an unsurpassably charming and handsome young boss named Mr. Vivien. In fact, not only Minnie's mother but also Minnie's stepfather and two of Minnie's half-sisters have all been in various ways suddenly provided with immense sums of money through the influence of the charming and handsome young Mr. Vivien. So Minnie's mother offers to buy Minnie a free ticket from Britain to Australia to visit the family. Minnie is more interested in visiting Natalie Clifford Barney, and hasn't yet noticed the suspicious resemblance of Mr. Vivien's last name to that of Natalie Clifford Barney's lover, Renée Vivien; but a travel agent tells her that if her mother buys her a ticket from Britain to Australia, it'll only cost $40 more to also fly to San Francisco and New York afterward, and Minnie is inexplicably convinced that she will meet Natalie Clifford Barney if she wanders around San Francisco and New York for long enough. (This, despite the fact that Natalie Clifford Barney actually spent most of her time in Europe, which would be cheaper for Minnie to spend her time wandering around.)
So Minnie flies to Australia to visit her family. No one can stop talking about how great Mr. Vivien is, and Minnie eventually begins to figure out that her family members are all just very bad at telling the difference between a man and a lesbian as butch as Renée Vivien. Mr. Vivien is Renée Vivien, and both Natalie and Renée are vampires, although Minnie hasn't figured out that they're vampires yet, because Minnie is still ridiculously unaware of how dead they both ought to be - not to mention how ancient they would have to be, even if they somehow weren't dead. Also, Minnie keeps inexplicably sometimes being in San Francisco, and then back in Australia again, even though there was nothing said about return tickets from San Francisco back to Australia. I think the idea is supposed to be that Minnie is really in Australia the whole time and is just having dreams about what she'll do in San Francisco when she gets there; but her family members in Australia sometimes interact with the people in San Francisco, or hear about their interactions with Minnie through sources other than Minnie herself, even though that's impossible if she's dreaming the San Francisco parts and not the Australia parts.
Furthermore, Minnie has an alter ego named Milly, who represents Minnie's more political side. Minnie and Milly have a lot of arguments. What's strangest about these arguments is that any family members in the room at the time can hear the entire arguments and join in. They call Milly "Milly" and Minnie "Minnie" and seem to somehow always know which one they're talking to. It seems like it would be better described as multiple personalities than as an alter ego. But worst of all, here's what really crowns the book's atrociousness: there are two love stories here, one for Minnie and one for Milly. Minnie falls in love with Natalie Clifford Barney, eventually meets her and Renée Vivien, sleeps with Natalie, figures out that Natalie and Renée are vampires, contemplates becoming a vampire herself, never finishes deciding, and is then abandoned broken-hearted (in the cruelest, most sudden, and most dishonest of all possible manners, I might add) by Natalie at the end of the book. And Milly? Milly falls in love with . . . wait for it . . .
The family parrot.
Yes, you read that correctly. Milly falls in love with her mother's parrot. And yes, I do mean sexual love. The parrot falls in love with Milly too, and they go on to become precisely the kind of happy couple that Minnie and Natalie never could. To celebrate their happy couplehood, they even sing a little duet together, which I am going to transcribe here, for the sole purpose of scarring all of you for life:
When the parrot uttered the word "love," a thrill shot through Milly such as she had never before experienced. "Voi che sapete che cosa é amor, donne vedete s'io l'ho nel cor." Could this be love? . . . "Oh pa, pa, pa," stammered Milly, intending to imbue the word "parrot" with all the loving tenderness it could contain.See? Scarred for life.
"Pa pa pa," echoed the parrot in exultation.
And so they sang:
Parrot: Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa Pamillina
Milly: Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa Parrotina
Parrot: Are you now entirely mine?
Milly: Now I am entirely yours.
Parrot: Then be my darling turtle dove!
Milly: Then be my darling little parrot!
Parrot and Milly: What joy it will be, if the gods are kind to us, and reward our love with children, such dear little children!
Parrot: First a little Parrotina!
Milly: Then a little Pamillina!
Parrot: Then another Parrotina!
Milly: Then another Pamillina!
Parrot and Milly: It is the highest of the emotions, if many Parrotinas and Pamillinas are to be their parents' blessing. It is the highest of the emotions, Parrotina! Pamillina!