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Suicide Blonde Paperback – March, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of Up Through the Water evokes sordid, neon-lit San Francisco nights in her brooding, explicit new novel of sexual degradation and futility. The story opens as narrator Jesse, shunned by her aloof lover Bell, bleaches her hair in a pathetic effort to impress him. "I have always been attracted to people who make me feel inadequate," Jesse admits, and Bell--who frequently leaves her for homosexual liaisons and craves a former male lover--is a perfect example. But he needs her, too, to provide his false link to conventional heterosexuality. Jesse manages to leave Bell, but continues to welcome abuse; she descends into the nocturnal world of heroin addict Madison, an icy, cruel woman who derives her strength from punishing the weak. Every conversation here constitutes a power struggle; every statement brings revelation. Jesse's relentless introspection, raw emotions and indulgence in meaningless sexual encounters may put off some readers. Nevertheless, Steinke reveals many hard-to-accept truths about sentimental love, self-delusion and obsession as she strips each character of dignity. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
After her relatively demure debut (Up Through the Water, 1989), Steinke turns up the heat for this episodic tale of kinky sex and all-out depravity. It's a bad girl's memoir of her descent into the netherworld of San Francisco's Mission District. In two weeks, pretty young Jesse (a woman always ``attracted'' to people who make her feel ``inadequate'') explores the seamy underside of modern life. Doing penance for her ``bland suburban past,'' Jesse ``dabbles in perversity.'' Her lover, a handsome actor named Bell, is busy mooning for his former boyfriend, soon to be married in L.A. Insanely jealous, Jesse confides in Madam Pig, an obese alcoholic for whom she keeps house. The reclusive old dame encourages Jesse to seek out a woman named Madison, who Pig claims is her daughter. In fact, Madison, Pig's ex-lover, is now a junkie prostitute who works from a bar in the Mission. From the moment they meet, Jesse is drawn to her sense of ease and power, and moves into Madison's apartment. Jesse's adventures begin: a trip to a live peep show; anonymous sex in a darkroom; sex with Bell in the presence of a trollish homosexual; masturbation with a statute of Christ in an empty church; a hand-job to a homosexual in a gay bar; turning a few tricks at Madison's whorehouse; smoking opium in a den run by a hermaphrodite; and witnessing Madison penetrate a john so violently with her fist that he dies. This last finally convinces Jesse that all ``relationships'' are ``sinister, violent, even murderous.'' As if all this weren't laying it on a bit thick, Steinke has Bell commit suicide at the very moment of Kevin's wedding. That's totally in keeping with the reductive psychology everywhere evident in this silly, violent book. So self-consciously seeking ``that exquisite kick of perversity,'' this callow fiction comes off as something along the lines of a much more sincere American Psycho. All the more pathetic. Expect the usual brouhaha: condemnation, then increased sales. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Suicide Blonde" is to the nihilism and self-absorption of the nineties what "American Psycho" was to the materialism and greed of the eighties. I found myself asking, Are there any normal people left in San Francisco? I spent a good part of my childhood in California, but haven't been back in more than forty years. The character of Madison is so evil one wonders if any real person could be like that. Still, the book is well-written and should appeal to fans of such classic accounts of young women descending into madness as "The Bell Jar" and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." The book poses an interesting question, along the lines of Christie's observation: in a world of total moral relativism, can anything be fun? Or are all experiences, even the most horrible, reduced to the same grey sameness?
The aforementioned narrator, a young lady girl woman female person lives in San Francisco and engages in risky behavior and obsessively analyzes all her relationships. As you can see, I had a difficult time defining her. I decided against "lady" because she's anything but ladylike. She's too immature to be called "woman"--when her age, 29, is revealed, I was sincerely flabbergasted. She acts 22, or less, but because of her stated age, I felt I had to discard the word "girl". She has a lot of pretty nasty sex, and I was chagrined at the very minimal mention of prophylactics. But her musings ring true. She makes a lot of very genuine and insightful observations, although I'm not sure she really learns anything. The book is almost voyeuristic in nature; it allows us to peek into this world that almost all of us will never experience. For that reason, it is worth reading.
Not a great book, but a pretty good one. It reads at times like the product of a graduate school writing program, a bit too self-conscious and self-reflexive in spots, too afraid to let the reader figure things out for himself or herself. One of the more annoying qualities are the passages where the protagonist is compelled to diagnose herself and the other characters in the book. But this may have been a deliberate device, since she also describes herself as "the worst kind of person, attractive, overeducated, raised with middle-class delusions of grandeur."
As a whole, it is sleight and a little wanting, but she mines the story for all it's worth. The imagery in some places is reminiscent of "Steppenwolf", her descents into debauchery echoing some of the hypnotic and hallucinatory alternate "realities" that he experiences at the end of that novel. I suggest just going with them -- don't be too terribly concerned if they don't make sense, they're supposed to be dreamlike. Steinke is no Hesse, but I'm sure a Freudian (if any true ones still exist -- we might have to use a Jungian) could find plenty to both love and hate in this short book. But be forewarned, it also takes some of the more unpleasantly frustrating and non-sensical twists and turns reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Unconsoled." At least "Suicide Blonde" won't take you 500+ pages to realize that you don't like it.