June is LGBTQ Pride Month, the most wonderful time of the year! IMHO, the perfect way to celebrate Pride is to support queer artists and queer art. To do that, I chose to read the delectable Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor. Paul Takes the Form is wacky, strange, sexy, smutty, smart, thought provoking, powerful and the perfect book to read to celebrate LGBTQ Pride!!
The story centers on Paul. When the story begins Paul is a twenty-something year old gay boy. He is a mediocre student in Iowa City, works at a gay bar, and collects his share of notches on his bedpost if you know what I mean. Then Paul is a lesbian. He falls for a girl at a Womyn’s Festival and followers her to her lesbian, vegan commune in Provincetown, MA. Paul is both these people and more because he is a shape-shifter: he can change his gender and his body as he pleases. He can beef up his muscles and grow body hair to fit in at a leather bar or grow his breasts and change his penis into a vagina to become a woman. Lawlor does not focus on why Paul is a shape-shifter. Instead of offering a definitive answer, throughout the book Lawlor weaves numerous fairy tale-esque stories to offer multiple possible origin stories. Paul’s ability acts as a devise to show that gender is, as Lawlor states in an interview, “both fluid and deeply felt.” Paul Takes the Form follows Paul as he traverses the LGBTQ scene of the early 90’s from the East Coast to the West Coast, diving headfirst into diverse queer communities.
Queer sex plays a major role throughout the book. Sex is presented honestly and openly in a way that is sexy and refreshing. For Paul, sex is a way to connect with people as well as a way to explore and express his gender. During the early gay rights movement, sex was an integral part of the gay identity. For so long people had to fight to have sex with who they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted; so now it was time to reap the benefits and enjoy! But we also get the flip side of the coin. It is impossible to talk about the queer communities that Paul traverses in the 90s without taking about the AIDS epidemic. Paul must deal with the loss, regret, and fear that accompanied queer life at this time.
Just as Paul constantly changes his gender, the tone shifts throughout the book. At times the story is lighthearted, funny, and an ode to Gen X pop culture (4 pages are brilliantly devoted to crafting the perfect mixtape for your lover). There are aspects that are complex, exploring ideas of gender theory and how society’s gender constructs can be dismantled, undermined, and supplanted. The story is HOT! As a woman and a man Paul has anonymous hookups in back rooms and passionate sex with lovers; it’s all authentic and very queer. And there are parts that are sad and troubling. Paul is a deeply flawed protagonist; he is often selfish and an imperfect friend/lover. Lawlor brilliantly weaves all these aspects into a story that is so much bigger than the plot points.
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a book that I will revisit throughout my life. This book is proof why we need more stories about queer experiences by queer authors! We need more stories like this that use literature to push society’s ideas of gender and sexuality and self. So go out there and celebrate LGBTQ Pride this June (and honestly every damn day of every damn month!) and don’t forget to read QUEER BOOKS!
** Vintage provided me a copy of the book for honest review
- Title: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
- Author: Andrea Lawlor
- Published: April 23, 2019 (Vintage) – originally November 1, 2017 (Rescue Press)
- Genre: Fiction, LGBT, Magical Realism
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * * *