Robin Talley’s Pulp is about as unique a storyline as one can write in this day and age. This story within a story (that includes yet 2 other writings of a story) presents as a partial mystery and part call to action for LGBTQ teens. Abby, a DC teen in the modern day, is a lesbian and out, without any real drama. Her family, magnet school, and friends are supportive and loving. But in the course of things, Abby comes across a pulp lesbian novel written in the 1950’s and decides to write one of her own as a part of her senior project. This decision is the impetus for us being introduced to the second timeline, one where we actually get an omniscient, if sometimes misleading, narrator in the creation of the 1950’s pulp novel.
All of this is excellent. The voice is solid, the characters are fleshed out with romance as one very important vehicle that moves the story along. At the same time, the romance of Abby’s parents is in the disintegration phase. Since this is a book with romance and relationships at every turn, I understood the significance of this plot line but I found Abby’s general denial and obliviousness to it very juvenile. It was the only part of the book that didn’t ring with me. Her avoidance of the issue was pained.
The story takes Abby (and us) on an adventure into the past. That sounds so cliched but in this case, being gay in the 1950’s was a real reason for subterfuge and so that aspect of the plot seems totally believable – even necessary.
On a more personal note, those of you who know me know that I had a previous career as an attorney and I was intimately involved in the evaluation of security clearances – a significant point in the 1950’s plot. On this topic, I cannot speak highly enough for Pulp. I learned so much about the Lavender Scare and truly felt the climate of the 1950’s when no one was sure what McCarthy’s legacy would be. I am happy to report that in my 5 years in this field, there was not a single case in OUR office of discrimination against a person from the LGBTQ community. It was a non-issue for us. I can’t speak for all of the govt, but it is only in retrospect that I ‘get’ how radically things changed in 50 years.
Because of the nature of the relationships in this book, it is geared for a YA audience and above. You shouldn’t be surprised that there is intimacy and romance in a book about lesbian pulp fiction novels! It is well written, not gratuitous and generally very sweet. Pulp is a good history of US civil rights of a hidden and maligned communities in the mid-century, one that necessarily touches on woman’s issues and minority issues as well. Unfortunately, it would not be permitted for a library in the Middle East, like mine, but I can hope that things will change here too – just as they did in the US.