Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Debbie Harry Sings In French
Brothers, Meagan. 2008. Debbie Harry Sings In French.
Debbie Harry Sings In French is an ambitious novel, the author's first novel in fact. Johnny is a young guy with a troubled past--after his father's death, he became a "goth" which had him drinking and (accidentally) dabbling in drugs, all of which freaked out his mother, which then led to him being sent to his uncle's to stay. (Uncle Sam & his son, Bug)
I thought the beginning--not the very beginning mind you--was awkward. Fifty pages spent just getting him to his uncle's house. Fifty pages to get to the actual starting point for the novel.
His uncle lives in South Carolina. Johnny has some difficulty adjusting to his new school. Here he is bullied and teased. A lot. Everyone is calling him names, labeling him gay, (though that's not the word(s) they use. All the time he has people calling him a fag or faggot. And they call his girl, Maria, a fag hag. Maria is the one reason he can't regret moving here. He needs her. He wants her.
Johnny is unique in a way. He's a teen boy obsessed with Blondie, with Debbie Harry in particular. And when he lets it slip that he sometimes wishes he was Debbie Harry, then his girl is ALL about making that wish come true. Marie is a strange character. One that felt unreal to me. Perhaps there are girls out there--girlfriends out there--who are secretly dying to dress up their boyfriends. Get them in dresses. And bras. Get them in heels. Teach them how to walk in heels. Put makeup on them, etc. Encourage and plead with them to enter drag queen competitions. And maybe just maybe this is within the umbrella of authenticity. But it doesn't strike me as natural. I just couldn't understand Maria's angle.
I felt Johnny was a bit passive. This urge to dress in women's clothes doesn't seem to be coming from Johnny--at least not at first. (By the last few pages of the novel, this isn't the case.) It was Maria. It was Maria who saw a dress in the shop. Maria who bought it for him. Maria that told him to try it on. Maria who encouraged him to try women's shoes. To walk in heels. To do it all. And sure once Johnny's got the get up on--the costume on--then he seems to enjoy it. He enters the drag queen contest not because it gives him a thrill. Not because he's attracted to other guys. Not because he feels he is a woman. But because he wants to win the prize money. He wants to win the money to give it to her so she can go see her mom for Christmas. Sure, when asked if he enjoyed wearing these clothes, this costume, he said yes. He tells us that he likes the experience of wearing women's clothes. But almost all of what we're shown is that he's all about Maria. And all the occasions he's worn women's clothes (once in public, a few times to rehearse)...it was always a dressing up to become one woman in particular Debbie Harry. And the "fun" of it...I'm not sure if it comes down to the fact that it is an opportunity to wear women's clothing...OR if it comes from the thrill of stepping up on stage and being admired, getting attention, being someone--anyone--else.
When Johnny's pressed into conversations about what he is--and what he isn't, he always answers that he's not gay. He's attracted to women. He loves one woman, in particular, Maria. Everyone seems to want to label him as something--gay or queer, gay-but-in-denial, transvestite, etc. He's not easily offended by these questions--especially if they're asked politely and don't come right before a hate crime--but he is more of a saint than I would imagine most people are. But it isn't easy to label Johnny. Johnny's just Johnny. No labels needed or wanted. The book begs the question, why do people have to label anyone. Why can't people just be people, just be fellow human beings, just be unique unto themselves.
Other reviews: Abby the Librarian, Oops...Wrong Cookie, Reading Rants, Worth the Trip. From the Corner of Megan's Mind, The Story Siren, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews