Over the past year, I’ve thought so much about what a novel can actually do in the world. I have to agree with Airea D. Matthews, when she recently tweeted “I love poems…Poems, however, will not make the world a better place. What makes the world better is individual & collective action. That’s work requiring a giant step outside the circle jerk radius…I think about the importance of signal and map songs during American slavery. They weren’t special because they were written, they were special because they were sung & signaled info. to aid escape.”
So, acknowledging the limits of literary work, while also their potential to be part of a wholesale response to the world when it becomes untenable, I’ve tried to commit to reading books that answered the question “What is a novel good for?” in original ways.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s Sketchtasy is that kind of book. If there’s any justice in this world, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s Sketchtasy will become the definitive novel of life in Boston, reducing all those sad Southie boy ballads to ether. Sketchtasy is one of those rare things—a literary novel with energy. It’s the story of Alexa and her group of friends, playing and partying and thinking and reading and working and organizing through mid-’90s Boston. Sycamore is a master of stream of consciousness narrative voice. In lesser hands, this style can lose focus and circle around itself but in Sycamore’s novel, it drums straight through to the end, a sure shot. Sketchtasy slyly trades 1990s nostalgia for a complicated queer narrative that is mesmerizing and heartbreaking all at once.
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