Thursday, September 20, 2007

Heartbreak Hotel by Gabrielle Burton: A Review by Katie Spencer

This is the eleventh of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

Gabrielle Burton's Heartbreak Hotel runs each of its engines at full capacity. It is completely intelligent, completely feminist, completely hilarious, completely furious, completely compassionate, and it does the whole thing inside out. It is an exhausting book. It is worth the effort, and then you will force it on your friends.

This is a story of the rebirth of the straight white middle-class American feminist, written in the mid-1980s, and it takes place in Buffalo. It is dated, but to a feminist era and type I feel unlived nostalgia for: there's a Midwest-runaway New Yorkiness about this sarcastic, corny, male-affectionate, DIY feminism; little bits Gilda Radner and Silver Palate Cookbook. Characters are tortured by middle-class feminist questions like, does it bring me pleasure to serve others? I say this without mockery. It’s a good, often hushed question.

Heartbreak Hotel is intentionally written to be diffuse, not like those, ahem, linear books you're used to reading, and it has the guts to create two-dimensional characters and give each a voice, and through jokes, compassion, and a series of haunting witness-bearing litanies, resurrect the squashed third dimensions. Six women, each a type you'll recognize, live in a house attached to the Museum of the Revolution, in which they all work. They're resting, because they're all burned out from their roles. The Museum's humpbacked curator is in a coma, and they must decide whether or not to save her; also, Buffalo wants to close the Museum.

I quit; it’s impossible to explain the plot without sounding ridiculous. The book is a joyride. If you made it this far, you’re gonna love it.

Katie Spencer graduated from Skidmore College in 2004 and is tiptoeing toward a master's degree at Emerson. She spends most of her time in the kitchen, and likes to walk around with a cat on her head.

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