Warning: if you read the stories in Dangerous Angels, you will catch Teh Geh. You will also become infected with self-esteem, and life-threatening levels of acceptance of interracial relationships and unmarried parenthood, and become addicted to Oki Dogs. You will be forbidden to live in small towns in Wisconsin, and be required to carry a passport whenever you travel more than 50 miles from the California coastline.
Not really. Books have a great deal of power, but so far as I know they don’t cause homosexuality. Give people the nerve to admit that they’re gay, maybe, but they can’t make you what you’re not, whether a gender orientation or a racist belief. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to cover the first and fifth of the five ‘books’1 in Dangerous Angels, Weetzie Bat and Baby Be-bop2. And those are the two I like best.
In Weetzie Bat, the eponymous heroine is finishing high school and trying to find her place in the world; fortunately, in L.A. it’s a bit easier to be slinkster cool–hair in a mohawk, pink fringed miniskirts, cowboy boots and strawberry lipgloss–and still be accepted. She meets the person who’s to be her BFF, Dirk, and they run wild, “Duck” hunting together for their as yet unmet Significant Others. Weetzie’s own parents are divorced, and don’t seem to do a whole lot of parenting of Weetzie; Dirk’s grandmother, Fifi, having raised Dirk, takes Weetzie under her other wing as Weetzie and Dirk make bad choices in the people they date. Fifi’s lesson to the two is ‘value yourself’; she says of her canaries “They are in love. But even before they were in love, they knew they were going to be happy and in love someday. They trusted. They have always loved themselves. They would never do anything to hurt themselves.” Fifi then gives Weetzie the family heirloom genie lamp, which provides the obligatory three wishes–in this case, “a Duck for Dirk, a Secret Agent Lover Man for me, and a house for us to live in happily ever after.”
The wishes come true, and they do live happily ever after for the most part. And, of course (at least for those of us who read “The Monkey’s Paw”), there are bobbles. The house comes with a tear-jerker of a catch, there are witches and lovers’ quarrels, prejudice against unmarried parents/gay partnership/interracial relationships, a child with three ‘fathers’ and the ever-present specter of homosexuality then and now, AIDS.
In many ways, Weezie Bat can stand alone, as with other books that are now the first in a series but weren’t necessarily meant/intended to be thus when written. I’d say it’s as much a paean to the joys of hipster youth in L.A. as a story of acceptance of oneself and the way one is meant to be; Block’s writing style reads like a 75 page free verse poem about being young and artistic and in search of yourself in L.A., written by someone who’s stayed up all night at a rave and then had some pot brownies. The first time I read it, I was put off–what’s an Oki Dog, for pete’s sake?–but waded through it again (and ran a few terms through Google3) and came to appreciate it a little more. This is the sort of book that you’re either going to love or hate. Thankfully, it’s such a short book that it’s not that much of a struggle to finish if you don’t. It touches on a lot of things, but largely the lesson I’d take away from this is “Be assured in yourself–you are worthy of love, and love is worthy of having no matter the color of the participants’ skin or the gender of the people.”
Baby Be-bop is a prequel of sorts to Weetzie Bat. The sixteen year old Dirk has realized that he’s gay as a young teenager–he’s known for some years before the book opens, but is struggling with how to ‘come out’ to his beloved grandmother, Fifi, in the face of a community that uses “faggot” as an unimaginably crushing insult4 and how to gain acceptance from those around him. As he thinks about a gay couple his grandmother knows:
“They talked in voices as pale and soft as the shirts they wore and they moved as gracefully as Fifi did. Their eyes were startled and sad. They had been hurt because of who they were. Dirk didn’t want to be hurt that way. He wanted to be strong and to love someone who was strong; he wanted to meet any gaze, to laugh under the brightest sunlight and never hide.”
Not surprisingly, and as with far too many gay youth even today, the strain of being what he is in a culture set against such things drives him to the brink of suicide. As with Weetzie Bat, I’d say the main message of this book also was: Start by accepting and loving yourself because you’re worth loving, and don’t give up looking for the One Person For You. Oh, and you may be surprised by your relatives. Talk to them and learn their stories as your family and its history are important.
1published separately originally, but they’re little more than novellas
2this is the one that caused all the stink over in Wisconsin
3two hot dogs, pastrami, chili all wrapped up in a flour tortilla and burritoized? I’m getting heartburn just thinking about that. Urp.
4indeed, it still is. Alas.