Shel­ley Mar­low’s Two Au­gusts In A Row In A Row

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Kevin Kil­lian

Pub­li­ca­tion Stu­dio, Fel­low Trav­el­ers Se­ries, 2015 Pub­li­ca­tion Stu­dio of Port­land, Ore­gon, boasts a distinc­tively de­signed line called the Fel­low Trav­el­ers se­ries, the red cov­ers of which oth­er­wise mimic the deep green wrap­pers of the fa­mous Olympia Press Trav­eller’s Com­pan­ion se­ries of the late ’50s and ’60s. At Olympia Press, French provo­ca­teur pub­lisher Mau­rice Giro­dias re­leased nov­els of literary merit that were too hot for any con­tem­po­rary press to han­dle. In this way Lolita, Naked Lunch, Our Lady of the Flow­ers, The Story of O, and many oth­ers came into the world. Port­land hasn’t risen to the heights of Paris yet, but a steady stream of in­ter­est­ing fic­tion and memoir has con­tin­ued the mar­riage of avant- garde writ­ing with rad­i­cal sex and pol­i­tics.

Brook­lyn- based Shel­ley Mar­low, a first-time nov­el­ist, has cre­ated a mem­o­rable pro­tag­o­nist in Philom­ena/ Phillip, a late- bloomer if ever there was one, a per­for­mance artist and re­searcher in 2001 New York. Born to Jewish athe­ist par­ents who ac­cepted her com­ing out as a les­bian but who are now giv­ing her grief over her “drag king trans butch­ness,” Phil is ping-pong­ing be­tween ro­mances and iden­ti­ties while try­ing to right the anomie of tran­si­tion­ing in a rapidly gen­tri­fy­ing world right be­fore the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks. At times the book reads al­most like a his­tor­i­cal novel, for at­ti­tudes to­ward what Mar­low calls “gen­der di­as­pora” have changed so re­mark­ably since 9/11, and Phil and his friends seem im­pos­si­bly young, sweet and en­er­gized, and their world daz­zlingly mul­ti­cul­tural and mul­tira­cial. It’s a utopian book, even in the mid­dle of dread climes and dire events, and it’s a book in which “mag­ick” works in orac­u­lar turns that regularly trump old­fash­ioned re­al­ism and psy­chol­ogy.

When the planes get hi­jacked and the tow­ers fall, Phil leaves the bat­tered States on a lover’s jour­ney with Magi, an al­lur­ing “fem­i­nist blog­ger.” (Re­mem­ber how ex­cit­ing we thought blog­gers were in 2001?) To Italy they travel, with res­o­nances of the royal court find­ing Ar­ca­dian ro­mance in the for­est of Ar­den in As You Like It. But then, too soon, those athe­ist par­ents, need­ier than ever, call Phil home to take part in the work of their mor­tal­ity. Mar­low has spo­ken of her novel as a love let­ter “be­tween gen­er­a­tions of queer women,” and “from one gen­er­a­tion of fem­i­nists to the younger gen­er­a­tion of trans­gen­der fem­i­nists.” Two Au­gusts in a Row in a Row, like Ray­mond Que­neau’s Zazie dans le Metro, is a love let­ter, be­tween gen­res as well: it’s a bil­dungsro­man, an anec­do­tal history of both per­for­mance art and re­cent path­ways of gen­der sub­ver­sion, it’s travel writ­ing, porn, com­me­dia dell’arte, epic po­etry, post­mod­ernism à la Bertha Harris’s Lover, eti­quette guide, closet drama, re­portage. And it has that strangely old-fash­ioned thing—charm, a spell. — Kevin Kil­lian is a San Fran­cisco poet, play­wright, and nov­el­ist. Re­cent books in­clude Tagged, a col­lec­tion of Kil­lian’s pho­to­graphs, and Tweaky Vil­lage, new po­ems. Pages from his on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist Ugo Rondi­none ap­peared in BOMB 129.

Shel­ley Mar­low in drag (pho­tog­ra­pher un­known).

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