“All through Zippermouth, author Weeks waves her middle finger at literary norms and dares the reader to walk away.”
Once upon a time, six beautiful, young people lived in New York City—a remarkably clean place inhabited by college-educated white people between the ages of 25 and 35. Though these people had going-nowhere careers, they drank high-end coffee daily, wore expensive clothes, and enjoyed neverending hijinx. These people knew nothing of drugs, never fell behind on bills, and are always perfectly composed for the next week’s episode of their Neilson Ratings giant, the TV show “Friends.”
Those repulsed by “Friends” will revel in Laurie Weeks’s Zippermouth—a vulgar, pessimistic, and extremely smart homage to Generation X’s unfulfilled dreams. Ms. Weeks writes of life in New York City with the staccato voice of a beat poet and the pissed-off wit of Lewis Black.
Here’s how her narrator describes the suburban neighborhood of her childhood and aspirations for Bohemian freedom in the big city: “We lived in a neighborhood of mumbling cadavers who emerged to gather their mail before returning to their solariums and sliding glass doors, walls rippling with sparkle from the pools where gelatinous anima floated, face down. I’d be poor, pay cheap rent for my garret; I’d be incandescent, thermonuclear with the Joy of Art and Living Free.”
The plot of Zippermouth, to the degree there is a plot, revolves around the party-till-you-puke lifestyle of the narrator as she falls in love with Jane, a bi-curious woman. But Jane floats in and out of the book, and the majority of scenes involve the narrator traveling back and forth in her life or freaking-out with freaks (i.e., a homeless heroin addict, a guy who intermingles heavy drug use with cleaning apartments).
But the most satisfying parts of Zippermouth might be the pop-culture monologs that are unmoored from the plot, including a delicious 10-pager on old-time actress, Vivien Leigh, at the start of the book.
Punk rock poet Patti Smith appears to exert an influence on Ms. Weeks. They both focus on the grimy underbelly of Bohemian New York. And Ms. Weeks' shares Ms. Smith’s ability to speak like a snarling punk while showing-off a strong grounding in literature: Pliny the Elder, Michel Foccault, Sylvia Plath, and Roland Barthes are just some of the highbrow luminaries that dot the narrative.
Zippermouth is half novel, half strung-out rant. The book lacks chapters, and skips back and forth in time. There is no antagonist or discernible central event to drive the plot. The unnamed narrator doesn’t “grow” over the course of the book. Sentences are often the size of paragraphs, and paragraphs ramble and then end suddenly.
Besides the narrator and Jane, Zippermouth has no well-defined characters. All through Zippermouth, author Weeks waves her middle finger at literary norms and dares the reader to walk away.
By traditional measures, Zippermouth is a deeply flawed novel. But Ms. Weeks is not striving to be the next Amy Tan or John Irving. While Zippermouth might not be a fabulous novel, it is a fabulously interesting one. And this reviewer sincerely hopes Ms. Weeks finds a large and loyal readership among the millions of Americans who can’t stand “Friends.”