Valencia is a memoir by Michelle Tea, about her time living in San Francisco, falling in and out of love with a succession of girls, going to various nightclubs, parties and gay pride marches, and losing several jobs. It’s split into chapters but is told in quite a stream-of-consciousness style – she’ll start out telling one story but will diverge into telling us umpteen other people’s stories in between. I wouldn’t read this if you require a plot to get along with a book, because the narrative here isn’t going anywhere, it’s just a continuous description of things that happen and people the author knows.
I wasn’t expecting to laugh a lot whilst reading Valencia, but although some parts were sad and some of the people described were troubled, other parts were hilarious. There are so many strange but still very real characters, and the author tells us what she was thinking at these times in her life in a really deadpan way. For example, at one point, she has a job at a courier company, and she wants to lose it, but they won’t fire her. The way she talks about why she won’t just quit, rationalising what doesn’t make sense at all, is so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
I thought the introduction to this edition was particularly interesting (I studied life writing – nerd alert), because Michelle Tea writes about how writing about her own life has frozen it in time. With time and distance, we view things that happened to us differently, and she says this process has happened slowly for her, because when she performs extracts from the book, she has to inhabit the way she felt at the time, and cling onto it.
Valencia was easy to read but not absolutely compelling – it would probably be more interesting for people who are involved in similar ‘scenes’, and who have more in common with the ambitionless, hedonistic characters. I’m not sure whether I’ll read it again, but it has reminded me of how interesting the everyday can be when described with intelligence and humour.