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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 13, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 37
Sketchtasy is metamodern navel-gazing at its best
Arts & Entertainment
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Sketchtasy is metamodern navel-gazing at its best

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

SKETCHTASY
BY MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE
ARSENAL PULP PRESS


NOTE: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore will be speaking with Carley Moore and moderating a discussion about Moore's new novel The Not Wives at Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave. on Capitol Hill) on September 22 @ 3pm. Sycamore appeared at Elliott Bay Book Company last February to read from and discuss Sketchtasy, her latest novel.

Sketchtasy, set in Boston in the mid-1990s, is the story of post-teen Alexa and her rather dissolute troop trying to make ends meet and figure out life as the epidemic rages into its second decade.

I like this book, so wait for it&. wait for the good stuff while I complain a little. The first 35 pages were arduous. The first act of Sketchtasy reads like it was written by a young white queen from suburbia who read too much Kerouac, Burroughs, and Bornstein as a teenager while smoking pot and experimenting with Molly and mushrooms at house parties on the weekend. You know the type of 20-year-old who thinks that living recklessly makes you cool without the nuance to be interesting.

Characters slide in and out of Sketchtasy with dizzying rapidity in a series of scenes that slide into one another in frenetic chaos. Pronouns are tossed about like empty cocaine baggies on the dance floor. It's fast and inconsistent and there isn't a character or relationship that I could hang on to. At page 35 I was thinking about the writer. I was thinking the writer wanted me to know they were drug savvy and debauched. At page 35 I should not be thinking about the writer.

I stopped reading. I tried to figure out the game, but it all seemed disjointed, erratic, and pointless, the story of a 20 year old who thinks they're the first person ever to trade sex for a place to stay. The book sat on my nightstand and mocked me for a couple of weeks. As my copy deadline drew near, I picked up Sketchtasy on a Saturday morning with a plan to work my way through the rest of the book. By the time I got to page seventy-five, I realized that I was impatient and wrong. Really, really wrong.

I began to trust Bernstein Sycamore and forget about the writer. I began to get a feel for Alexa. I began to see a relationship between Alexa and her friend Polly. The style of the novel doesn't change, but within the chaos and slipping and sliding, Alexa starts to become real, and I started to understand what she was looking for amid the chaos, drugs, and sex.

Sketchtasy is perfect in its metamodern, navel-gazing way. Everything shifts; everything is a negotiation. Truth, morality, gender, memory, verb tense, ethnicity, relationships, punctuation, language, characters, and narrative itself shifts and starts and stops and speeds away. Sketchtasy reads like an ecstasy trip, and it's awesome.

Ultimately, Sketchtasy is about hustlers and drug dealers fleeing suburbia while exploring 1990s queerdom and trying to find a safe place to be. It's about a young person fleeing an unsafe family and trying desperately to create a new one.

It's also obliquely about the epidemic. I had forgotten the details of those days in the late '80s and into the '90s when happy hour meant checking through the obituaries of the local fag rag. Just the fact that the local fag rag had obituaries brings me to a stop in 2019. I lost many friends while I was coming out back then. I also lost a good friend last fall to prostate cancer. He had lived HIV positive for 30 wonderful years. Sketchtasy jolted me back to a time when living with AIDS wasn't a thing.

Let's start all over. You have to read this book. The structure, from the sentences to the narrative arcs, is inexplicable, yet powerful and rife with meaning. The end of the second act should be required reading for every mind-numbing MFA workshop in the land. Just let go and read. After you finish the book, re-read the first thirty-five pages over. It's enlightening.

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My Son, the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy - An interview with Brad Zimmerman
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An interview with author Carley Moore about The Not Wives ahead of her appearance with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore at Elliott Bay Book Company on Sunday, Sept. 22
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Sketchtasy is metamodern navel-gazing at its best
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The ghosts of Occupy Wall Street are lurking in The Not Wives
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Is God Is channels mythology
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A wild night with the women who rock - Heart, Joan Jett (w/special guest, Elle King) shake the Tacoma Dome
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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Women run the world - Chelsea Stardust on the female-driven euphoria of directing horror-comedy Satanic Panic
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Uneven Goldfinch a visually rich and emotionally intimate melodrama
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