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When reading "Double Teenage" by Joni Murphy, one comes upon details so casually mentioned, it feels as though the reader remembered them from within themselves. These repeated, minute ideas build and build until the end of the story, which does not offer a resolution. Following the lives of two girls, Celine and Julie, "Double Teenage" is a coming of age novel written with truth. The awkwardness, shame, guilt, love, and heartbreak that is learning and growing. This story is about transformation and from beginning to end, it flies by.
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Double Teenage tells the story of two young teenagers (best friends, Celine and Julie) who are coming of age in the 1990s along the US-Mexico border--a place where nothing seems to happen, but only because what counts as 'something' is defined by far-off centres of power. In their small, desert town and small-scale life, they become a twin pair. Through their love of theatre, they find their way into a wider world, rich with opportunity, but at the same time, dense with situations of peril and violence.
This unrelenting novel shines a spotlight on the paradoxes of Western culture--obsessed with depictions of fantasy sexual violence, while at the same time, willfully blind to the many ways in which desire and hurt twine together in real life; where angry, emotional, and loving girls have been told time and again that they overthink things; where survival goes hand-in-hand with trauma and witnessing; where art, books, movies, TV, and plays work to both shield us from reality and also help us to face it, and powerful healing rituals can be made out of everyday material goods--hoodie sweatshirts, homemade alcoholic punch, joints, and blood pacts. In this way, Double Teenage ultimately offers a way through violence into an emotionally alive place beyond the trap of girlhood.
Informed and influenced by the films of David Lynch, Agnes Varda, Chris Marker, Jacques Rivette, Murphy has developed an emotional dialogue in Double Teenage, one that wrestles with the borders of our bodies, our countries, and our realities. The borderlands (the US/Mexican and the Canadian/US) in this novel become gendered, performative spaces that are hard and soft, depending on who is trying to cross. Though the girls move away from the Southwest to Vancouver and Chicago, and gain entry into rarified academic and artistic circles, they discover that the violence and solitude of the borderlands are still stuck within them.
In drawing comparisons to Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be and Chris Kraus's Summer of Hate, the harrowing narrative in Double Teenage will speak particularly to an audience of 'Under 40' women who are radical, possibly over-educated, if perhaps precariously employed. Art audiences, as well as people interested in literary fiction and criticism, will also be drawn to this novel's integration of books, theatre, and performance.
Like the Celine and Julie of Jacques Rivette's film, Joni Murphy's protagonists are highly attuned to magical forces. But, growing up Las Cruces, New Mexico, a town that they separately flee for points north, the magic they see is infused with unfathomable violence. From the micro-inflictions of 'self harm' to the criminal and systemic violence that surrounds them, they struggle to make sense of their surroundings by whatever means are available to them: sex, romance and drugs; literature and fashion; art, theater, and critical theory. DOUBLE TEENAGE is the definitive book of The Young Girl. It's also a definitive book about NAFTA, the Ciudad Juarez femicides, spectacular serial killings, culture and class, and the comforting media-lull of repetition. In an effort to understand, if not everything, at least those things that surround her protagonists, Murphy writes with an unforced and calm beauty. DOUBLE TEENAGE is a stunning first novel, moving with stealth and intelligence against the North American landscape.' --Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick
Joni Murphy speaks to us directly. She speaks to us from a place of borders, of countries, and of languages that are strange to her and in need of reinvention. Through her ear and her eye, through her transmissions from these dusklands, we recognize something actual, an event or place, but cross-examined, rendered and remixed. Sometimes theatrical, sometimes cinematic, always urgent and painted on a broad canvas, unafraid of the depth of each landscape, of the mountains that we cannot see that lie beyond the mountains that we can. Her monologues follow the flow of thought--visual, critical, poetic, nostalgic. She speaks to where we are now--when the 'we' is the individual and the body politic, in this historical moment, where this marginal place, through the thought of her writing, becomes the centre. --Matthew Goulish, founding member of the performance groups Goat Island and Every House Has a Door.