Title: Suicide Blonde
Author: Darcey Steinke
Publisher: Grove Press
Published Date: 13th June 2017 (new edition)
Page Count: 192
Reviewer: Gwendoline SK Terry (22nd April 2022)
Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that made the pink walls quiver like vaginal lips? Twenty-five years after its initial publication, Darcey Steinke’s sensational Suicide Blonde has lost none of its raw charge. Jesse is a beautiful twenty-nine-year-old adrift in San Francisco’s demimonde of sexually ambiguous, drug-taking outsiders, desperately trying to sustain a connection with her bisexual boyfriend Bell. She becomes caretaker and confidante to Madame Pig, a grotesque, besotted recluse. Jesse also meets Madison, Pig’s daughter or lover or both, who uses others’ desires for her own purposes, and who leads Jesse into a world beyond all boundaries. As startling, original, and vital as it was when first published at the height of the grunge era, Suicide Blonde is an intensely erotic story of one young woman’s sexual and psychological odyssey and a modern cult classic.
To preface, I bought this book at the end of July 2021 but didn’t read it until two months later on my flight to California, ironically. I was going through my Goodreads list to see if I was going to read a new book and review it, or just review a book I’ve already read since I just finished reading and reviewing Gods of Avalon Road, and this one caught my eye. It may have been seven months since I read the book, but I remember how jarring an experience it was, and how relieved I was to finish it. I skimmed through the book, remembering the vividness of the story and the feelings evoked by it while I was sitting on the long flight to San Francisco and back.
Suicide Blonde was a strange one. The whole novel was dark and gritty, with lots of graphic sex, drug use and prostitution, but that didn’t bother me – in fact, that’s the reason why I bought the novel. What did annoy me was the complete lack of depth in the characters (they were all so bleak and dull!) and the almost non-existent plot. All of the characters were self-involved, dreary and bizarre, especially the selfish, shallow protagonist.
I wonder if I am unfairly judging the novel because the lifestyle portrayed in the pages is foreign to me, and therefore completely unrelatable. It all just seemed very weird. It was relentlessly miserable and pretentious, filled with strange one-liners and metaphors that I assume were supposed to be snippets of genius symbolism that went completely over my head.
As much as I’m disparaging it, there was a lot of beautiful prose throughout the novel and some poignant phrases amongst the odd ones. I picked up this book to read on the plane when I was travelling to Monterey, CA, ironic since Monterey was a setting near the end of the book. I got to physically see the places the MC saw which was pretty cool but not relevant in forming an opinion on the story itself.
All in all, the story was very bleak and contrived. Some parts had me yawning, but I managed to force myself through it because I hate DNFing a book – plus I was on a really long flight with nothing to do but read this book. Suicide Blonde is not my cup of tea, it was a trainwreck I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. The book is sitting on my shelf catching dust and will probably be one of the many things I donate to the library or toss into a yard sale.
To reiterate, it has been seven months since I read this novel before reviewing it, which might not be very fair for the book, and literary fiction has never been a genre I’d usually choose to read, so maybe I set this book up for failure in regards to reviewing it.