Pamela: A Novel
Author: Pamela Lu
Publisher: Atelos Press (1999)
While the new sentence—the prose wing of Language writing—strips narrative down to pointed sets of shifting referents, Lu, in her debut, knowingly resuscitates it, creating a precise and humorous elegy to the self, and to its self-subversions. This quasi-bildungsroman charts the emergence of an "I" (not "P" and not "Pamela," though the three characters do appear together) into a 20-something Bay Area, with memories of a suburban childhood close on her heels. Like those memories, familiar postmodern tropes such as professional/vocational, performance/authenticity, suburbs/city or butch/femme no longer establish identity or location, and Lu and her friends, "L," "R" and "YK" etc., can find no way to make it new: "And so in the midst of our contemporary lives we were in need of classical reassurance; we were always playing reels of old movies which we could fall into and fall in love, the way James Dean could tilt back his head under a geyser spout of black Texas oil and drink in that greasy rain of love and money with his entire body, only we could never be half as iconic or even half as campy." The "novel" of their lives progresses not because Lu resolves the relation between the professional and the vocational, or between love and the love-story, for instance, but because these micro-discourses, after rigorous and often hilarious consideration, get bound up in the poet's contingent "tone" (another dissected term), which in turn becomes the novel's revolving stage. This is a book of extraordinary philosophical subtlety and clarity, one that manages to tell a beautiful story in spite of itself.
"Pamela: A Novel . . . is [an] astounding work that inhabits a new fictive space, a space so odd and alluring that one looks up from it a little changed. . . . Lu's provocative use of pronouns does nothing less than suggest a new sense of what the "I" might be and do."
"Pamela: A Novel is one of the finest books to emerge from the ardent, experimental writing scene in the Bay Area. . . Lu builds a social space and founds a society."