Confident, queer heartbreaker Della is in the hospital as her friends and lovers lurk in the waiting room. In a long flashback, Eve describes how the previous year unfolded, including falling in love with Della, her political awakening and the death of a friend. Eve is young; a university student who identifies as gay although she’s still attracted to girly boys. Bottle Rocket Hearts is set in Montreal in 1995, a time when feminism and queer politics were in the cultural spotlight and when the issues that would dominate debates in the gay community were coalescing. It is also the time of the Quebec referendum, an event which marks an important section of the novel. It’s as if the language barrier reflects the impossibility of two people having a real relationship or ever being able to understand each other.
Eve is trying to be an adult before she knows what’s involved and her confusion rings true in this description of her transition from childhood. As one friend comments, “it’s really been hard to watch her, like, go through this shit, for the first time.” Eve’s narration is a balance of perceptive observation and adolescent fuzzyheadedness. As the story progresses, her decisions begin to have weight and she starts to see how they will shape her life as she moves beyond her role as a cute mascot to her older, more worldly friends.
There are wonderful light touches of humour that poke fun at little quirks and ideas within the subculture that are often taken too seriously. Eve can’t quite swallow the party line and while she doesn’t rock the boat she does question lesbian conformity and separatist politics. These serious topics are expertly probed, but the novel lacked a corresponding sense of joy, even when Eve is out at gay clubs or cuddling with her girlfriend. The heaviness of growing up in the midst of violence and hate needed some lightness and wonder to really create a memorable story. Eve is complex and unusual and the story is well crafted and well paced, but the novel reached for something profound, which it never quite reached. (Kris Rothstein)
by Zoe Whittall, $19.95, 189 pgs, Cormorant Books, 215 Spadina Ave, Studio 230, Toronto, ON, M5T 2C7, cormorantbooks.com