Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
I spent a week in January living vicariously through Paul, the title character of Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel. Reading this book is a rush, after the first few pages, I was absorbed in Paul’s world and basking in his cool.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl opens in 1990s Iowa City, where our protagonist studies film theory, makes zines, and bartends at the only gay club in town. It is soon revealed that Paul is a shapeshifter, able to transform his appearance and gender at will. With this magical ability to change for the occasion and an omnivorous sexual appetite, Paul has a lot of sex. All kinds of sex.
Paul drifts between people and places, always yearning for attention and experience. “What was sex but newness? And sensation and conquest and intrigue and desire and romance and fantasy, and specific people sometimes, sure, but not always.”
He follows his best friend Jane to the famously clothing-optional and trans-exclusionary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. This is the first time Paul is forced to sustain a female form for a long stretch of time. Interestingly, the pronouns used to qualify him stay the same.
At the festival, he meets an animal rights activist named Diane (to which Jane responds, “I can’t believe I took you to Michigan and you turned into an earnest, monogamous lesbian”). But this isn’t exactly a love story.
Next stop is off-season Provincetown, and finally, San Francisco. Paul’s memories of Tony Pinto, a past lover whose name haunts the story like a ghost, give us a glimpse of New York City at the height of the aids crisis.
Paul mostly occupies queer-identified spaces, yet his refusal to choose a gender or an orientation proves troublesome, especially within his own relationships. Lawlor summons the trickster figure from ancient mythology to ask an ultra contemporary question — What are we? The result is a hilarious, campy, HOT coming of age story and new benchmark for gender-nonconforming literature. As Eileen Myles puts it, “This book updates the present.”
“Peach Picks” is a new column of literary news and recommendations written by the editors of Peach Mag, an online literary magazine based in Buffalo, New York. For inquiries, contact Rachelle at email@example.com.