Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block is a renowned young adult author most famous for the Weetzie Bat series and lyrical writing. Now she has entered the realm of adult literature with Necklace of Kisses. Feeling unhappy with her marriage, Weetzie hides out in the same hotel where she attended her high school prom. She feels a kiss she didn't receive that night may have been a pivotal moment in her life. While there, she finds a host of strange characters and magical events while pursuing the lost kiss.

I was left feeling unsettled after reading this book, but it was hard to put my finger on exactly what it was. I could honestly say that I enjoyed the book, but there was something lingering in the back of my mind I didn't enjoy so much. I asked my friend who had originally given me the book if she had read it before, and unfortunately, she hadn't, but by talking with her in general about the book I finally narrowed it down to three things.

My first problem with the book is I felt the fantasy elements were more pervasive throughout the entire book than they were in the other Weetzie Bat books. Now, it has been a few years since I read the original series, but it seemed like there was usually a single fantasy element introduced in each book, such as a genie. It might have been an extended element essential to the plot, but it was kept to that one thing. In Necklace of Kisses, fantasy element piled upon fantasy element until I was in overload. I don't want to tell you all of the things Block includes so as not to ruin the plot, but everything from the creation of the titular necklace to a possible mermaid to Weetzie's favorite genie adds to the fantasy atmosphere. I think part of my problem is it almost seemed more believable when there was just a single fantastic occurrence. Certainly, it was unbelievable, but maybe, just maybe, magic could appear in our world from time to time. But when everything Weetzie touches is magical then it becomes a little less possible.

The second unsettling thing, not necessarily a problem, was a feeling of melancholy brought on by the events of the book. Mainly, if Weetzie Bat can grow old and have marital problems, what hope is there for the rest of us? Weetzie is supposed to be an eternal teenager, full of hope and wonder at the world. She's not supposed to leave her husband behind and run away to hide out in a hotel. Weetzie Bat just isn't allowed to have a mid-life crisis. The first book was published in 1989, though, so perhaps some of Weetzie's first fans are facing such dilemmas right now, and Block is just catering to her older audience. Not that Block seems like the sort of author to "cater" to anyone. She strikes me as an inspired author who probably wrote this story because these were the sorts of issues pressing on her at the time. Perhaps she just wasn't in the mood for whimsical musings.

On a related note, Weetzie's problem with her husband stems from the 9/11 attacks. After that day, he spends too much time reading the newspaper and being depressed. For some reason, it didn't ring true to the Weetzie Bat world. Now certainly, the punk aesthetic of some of the earlier Weetzie books probably only belongs to a certain time I don't know much about, but there was an overall timelessness to the stories that maked them as good in 2006 as they were in 1989. I feel like the references to 9/11 will date this book and detract from it in 15 or 20 years.

So I guess you just can't make me happy. I'm not content when there's too much magic in the book and I'm not content when Block introduces too much realism into the narrative. Despite my ranting about the problems I had with the book, I still recommend it completely since I love Weetzie Bat, and I was happy to spend just a little more time in her world, even if it didn't make me completely happy.

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