The End of San Francisco, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, 192 pgs, City Lights Publishers, citylights.com, $15.95
This book — the first memoir by writer, editor and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore — is a chronicle of intense beginnings and gut-wrenching endings to friendships, political movements, lives and dreams amongst radical queer activists in the San Francisco Mission scene of the ’90s and early ’00’s.
Woven throughout the book are themes of survival and a community of people who come together to support each other through the shared experience of surviving sexual abuse. These characters are searching for safety in friendships that thrive on crisis, challenge and healing, and often these relationships unravel as easily as they bind.
Sycamore identifies the complicated messiness of identities wrestiling with belonging, activism and being instruments of gentrification. She writes to us about sickness in the body, embodiments of anxiety, sadness, fear, trauma, panic attacks, chronic pain, and nightmares both waking and sleeping. Her style — emotional and conversational — creates a rich, satisfying, evocative and deeply relatable world.
In a passage early in the book, Sycamore manages to summarize the importance of the book’s existence: “What I want is to map the relationships I formed through our [political] actions, to illuminate the contradictions that I can see more clearly now,” she writes. “Maybe then I won’t feel so lost.” By creating this paean to personalities, community and connectivity, she has allowed her characters to exist in a space where they can find solace — and readers are given a rare window into their world that also permits us to try to understand them too. (Sarah Mangle)