I was lucky enough to receive this book from Canongate…
‘Suicide Blonde’ by Darcey Steinke
3 out of 5 stars
Jesse, a beautiful twenty-nine-year-old, is adrift in San Francisco’s demimonde of sexually ambiguous, bourbon-drinking, drug-taking outsiders. While desperately trying to sustain a connection with her bisexual boyfriend in a world of confused and forbidden desire, she becomes the caretaker of and confidante to Madame Pig, a besotted, grotesque recluse. Jesse also falls into a dangerous relationship with Madison, Pig’s daughter or lover or both, who uses others’ desires for her own purposes, hurtling herself and Jesse beyond all boundaries.
*There may be some spoilers in my review below*
Republished by canongate, Daisy Steinke’s ‘Suicide Blonde’ has been labelled a feminist classic. Suicide Blonde focuses on Jesse as she navigates the uncertainty posed by her relationship with boyfriend Bell, whose bisexuality and random disappearances cause her to question her identity and their relationships. Jesse romanticises Bell; she doesn’t see him for what he is. She also doesn’t accept his bisexuality, instead she sees it as a constant threat causing her to try and change herself in order to make Bell want her enough to quit his late night ‘wanderings’. She also begins to obsess over the things Bell wants, the main focus being his ex-lover Kevin. Because of this, Jesse lacks her own identity, wants and needs, and instead provides a negative and weak point of view throughout the whole book, causing it to be quite dull and depressing. Even after she leaves Bell, she stays with a stranger (Madison) who she lets walk all over her just like Bell did, and again she only wants what Madison wants, knowing nothing of her own desires. She tries to change her identity to be loved by Madison, but this is to no avail. When she’s had enough of Madison she returns to Bell, just to tell him about all the bad things she has done, suggesting she didn’t do anything for herself, but instead just to anger Bell / scare him into loving her the way she wants him to.
I disagree with the statement that this is a feminist classic, as Jesse meanders through relationship after relationship being taken for granted by other people / doing things only to shock other people or make them like her more; she doesn’t asserts herself as a person of value (in her mind or in her real life), and so never breaks the cycle. She blames others for making her feel inadequate but in my opinion she places too much power in the people around her, and doesn’t value herself as an individual. Feminism by definition is to ‘advocate for woman’s rights’, yet Jesse fails to advocate for her own rights, let alone the women around her (her mum, the girls at the black rose, and even the reader). All in all she just comes across as a flat, negative, unlikable protagonist, which make the book quite hard to stick with. This may have been perceived to be a ‘feminist classic’ when it was first published in 1992, but I do not believe it is a feminist classic of the modern day.
I wouldn’t really recommend this book unless you enjoy dull, flat character’s or contemporary type books where not much happens. I also wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is a little prudish, as it focuses a lot on sex, drugs, prostitution etc.
Have you read Suicide Blonde? Let me know what you thought in the comments.