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Bottle Rocket Hearts Paperback – Apr 14 2007
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Welcome to Montreal in the months before the 1995 referendum. Riot Grrl gets bought out and mass marketed as the Spice Girls, and gays are gaining some legitimacy, but the queers are rioting against assimilation, cocktail AIDS drugs are starting to work, and the city walls on either side of the Main are spray-painted with the words YES or NO. It's been five years since the OKA crisis and the sex garage riots; revolution seems possible, when you're 18, like Eve. Eve is pining to get out of her parents' house in Dorval and find a girl who wants to kiss her back. She meets Della -- mysterious, defiantly non-monogamous, an avid separatist and ten years older. Initially taken in by a mutual other-worldly sense of rapture, they hole up in Della apartment, trying to navigate spaces of jealousy. On the night of the 1995 referendum, politics and romance come to a head and Even's naivet begins to fade. From naive teenager to hot shot rough girl, Even decides her own fate.
About the Author
Zoe Whittall, originally from Montreal, where she attended Concordia University, now livesi n Toronto. Her previous books include The Emily Valentine Poems and The Ten Best Minutes of Your Life, both volumes of poetry. She edited the anthology Geek, Misfits & Outlaws. She has written for The Globe and Mail, the National Post, and NOW Magazine.
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, I was whisked away by Zoe's amazing writing in the first couple pages - before figuring out the subject matter. I finished the book and really, REALLY enjoyed her writing. I'll look forward to reading her future novels.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The narrative follows Eve - an eighteen-year-old lesbian living in the suburbs of Montreal - through her first "Revolutionary Relationship" with Della who thinks Eve is older than she is. We witness Eve's multifarious developments: her attempt to forge a new community of "queers and artists and adulthood;" get an apartment downtown; make mixed tapes; do drugs; get and lose a job, friends and a girlfriend. She becomes an activist and has ridiculous pangs of jealousy when the girlfriend's ex (aptly named XXXX because "her name is too evil to write or say out loud") makes an appearance to narrator Eve's "most insecure moments."
I found Whittal's descriptions of the latter to be refreshingly bang-on, treated with a fantastic sense of humour and the distinct awareness of the ironies at play: "intellectually non-monogamy made complete sense; emotionally it felt like sand-paper across my eyelids." And this is one of my favorite lines: "The trouble with deciding not to define anything is that it usually means you have to talk a lot more about what you're not defining than you would if you employed the time-honoured grade nine approach to Going Steady."
We find out early on that for the narrator "people who journal always seem more grounded" and, later on, "the difference between fiction and non is almost arbitrary." In a sense, the changes found in the narrator's attitudes towards writing, starting from a position where the diary represents a space for grounding thoughts (i.e., transparency, honesty) to the realization that truth and fiction are (unfortunately) difficult to discern, also marks out the space of her coming of age, personally and as an author. And coming of age is probably a convenient misnomer in this case, because Bottle Rocket Hearts is more about the negotiations involved in coming into an identity, a process that is arguably endless and nuanced rather than fixed and simple.
"'Femme.' I mouthed it to myself, giggling. 'Okay.' For some reason this sounded good, like it fit more than any other moniker hoisted on me like queer, lesbian, bi, whatever. None of those felt right. Femme. Okay, that works."
The turmoil of the 1990s in Montreal is a fantastic setting for this novel in which all of the main characters are in emotional flux. Whittall's writing is refreshing and a delight to read. Her characters have great depth and even those who are antagonizing someone find a way to win your heart. Overall, this is well-worth a read and a re-read.
The main character is fully realized and completely lovable with her lethal combination of vulnerability and strength. The other characters too, read real and alive, especially her roomate Seven, a gay struggling with his HIV status and joie de vivre.
Through tragedy and love, Eve comes to learn that everyone is in possession of a "bottle rocket heart"..."common, sturdy, but still potentially explosive".
An amazing talent.