Bookmarked Place: Francesca Lia Block’s Manhattan

St. John the Divine

Visiting the Upper West Side’s Peace Fountain in 2012

Fiction represents places in ways that resonate or inspire, validating our own experiences or giving us new perspectives on them. For this reason, I’ve been meaning to start a series of blog posts in which I relate books to places. This is my first attempt at such a post.

Francesca Lia Block is best known for her tales of a magical Los Angeles, but her knack for capturing the spirit of a place isn’t limited to her native city. Although a seasoned New Yorker might disapprove of turning to a California author for a representation of the city, as a fellow Californian with a connection to NYC, I relate to Block’s vision of New York.

Block captures a certain fantasy of the city. It’s a distant presence in many of her books, including Weetzie Bat. The iconic Weetzie, a quirky blonde pixie of a protagonist, knows NYC through her New Yorker father, who sends her “postcards with pictures of the Empire State Building or reproductions of paintings from the Metropolitan Museum, Statue of Liberty key chains, and plastic heart jewelry.” In I Was a Teenage Fairy, main-character Barbie (named after a doll she doesn’t want to be like) imagines a symbolic New York woman:

She is always carrying bags of clothes, bouquets of roses, take-out Chinese containers, or bagels. Museum tags fill her pockets and purses, along with perfume samples and invitations to art gallery openings. When she is walking to work, to ward off bums or psychos, her face resembles the Statue of Liberty, but at home in her candlelit, dove-colored apartment, the stony look fades away and she smiles like the sterling roses she has bought for herself to make up for the fact that she is single and her feet are sore.

This image may be romanticized or stereotypical, but it demonstrates Block’s fearlessness in delving into the aesthetics and associations of place and popular culture—all of which draw me to her work.

Although I am far from a naturalized New Yorker, I did live there, once, and that period of residency was about as formative as a stint of less than three years could be. Continue reading

Advertisements