Title: PINK
Author: Jennifer Harris
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
ISBN: 1602820430
Rated: 3.5 Stars
Cat: Lesbian Fiction

Portrait of the Artist as a Portrait-Painter

This clever, unsettling novel is about a novel-within-the-novel which doesn’t exist, but which has attracted interest from Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Barbara Walters. The actual book is in the tradition of novels about novelists saving their own lives by writing self-defining novels, much like paintings of painters painting self-portraits.

That flawed but iconic 1928 lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness, could be seen as a forerunner of Pink. Stephen Gordon, the misunderstood central character of the earlier book, must leave her ancestral home to write a novel like the one in which she appears.

Pink, the actual book, is less self-indulgent than it sounds. It is partly about the American obsession with fame and celebrity and partly about the continuing invisibility of women, especially lesbians, as individuals. The fictional author of Pink (the imaginary book) has a real need to discover and express her own truth in order to survive. As thoughts of suicide float through her mind, the reader becomes aware that the book she has written (in the future) in literally her lifeline.

The title of the both the real and the unreal book is suggestive of everything feminine and everything “gay,” of diluted blood (an important element in the story told to the writer about her own birth), of a combination of emotion (red) and intelligence (white). “Pink” is even defined as a verb, meaning “to prick or stab.”

The nameless narrator has been raised by a rabidly homophobic mother who sends her photos of wedding gowns and a father who stands by his wife. A sinister grandfather lurks in an actual and metaphorical attic until he dies but does not disappear. The narrator’s sense of self is constantly under threat.

Among other things, this novel is a love story and a coming-out story. At age thirty-two, the narrator has never been in a truly intimate relationship, and the prospect terrifies her even while it fascinates her. To her amazement, the fellow-writer who meets her gaze over a laptop in a café turns out to be “evil review girl,” the one who trashed the narrator’s poetry when she was attending college.

The narrator has never forgotten these stinging phrases: “excruciating to listen to” and “no sense of self.” The reader is reminded of the appalling sensitivity of any fledgling writer. Writers who also write reviews are reminded of the temptation to “pink” someone else’s work; it seems so easy and so consequence-free.

The writer and the reviewer have a symbiotic relationship even before they meet. The writer needs acceptance from the reviewer, who needs forgiveness from the writer. The progress of the relationship is moving, awkward and funny.

Some passages in this novel deserve to be read aloud. Here Pink (the imaginary book) becomes controversial after Martha Stewart has declared pink to be the season’s hip color:

“…it will be good for the book because by the time she gets around to mentioning it, people will be starting to lose interest in the hubbub, and the Reverend Jerry Falwell will chime in and say that pink is damned. He will issue a memo saying pink is the cause of the destruction of families and the reason women are working. He will formally write out for every evangelist to read that pink is what is wrong with this entire country. And the book I will write [Pink] will soar right back to number one on The New York Times best seller list after five months on the market.”

Like the imaginary book, the real book captures the zeitgeist of twenty-first century American culture as well as the eternal paradoxes of human interaction.

This reviewer’s only complaint is trivial: the author should have known that “dessert” and “desert” are different words, spelled differently, despite the complex significance of both in the narrator’s life.

In general, however, the author finds her way through trackless environments and bewildering high-calorie rewards. Read the book and see.

Reviewed by Jean Roberta