Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl By Andrea Lawlor, 354 pgs.

Dec 13, 2018

The very first thing I have to say is that Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is, very, very simple: this is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year for sure, and probably ever. This book absolutely slapped. It was slow and meandering, and the plot wasn’t really… a plot, per se, but goddamn.

The novel takes place in several sects of the ’90s alternative scene, including riot grrrl punk, gay cruising and clubbing, and punk. Its narrator and main creature feature, Paul, is a Midwestern shapeshifter hell-bent on love and lust. Though the premise seems like a venture into thinly veiled pornography, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a foray into the very nature of gender and sexuality. Paul himself doesn’t know where he really lies in gender, even though any body he could possibly want is a body he could have. His nature is completely malleable. He lives much of his public life as a young gay man of the type folks would call a twink now, but only because he can’t tell anyone about his ability. When he has the opportunity to be anonymous, he often does so as a woman, a much more butch man that he fronts as, or any number of other personalities.

Everyone’s gender is fluid. I should say, rather, that everyone’s gender presentation is fluid. A young boy might act more traditionally masculine around his friends as a front, or a teenage girl might put on a dress she normally wouldn’t even consider wearing to impress a teenage boy on a date. Others change their gender presentation on the daily simply through dress and attitude, and sometimes it’s more subtle than that, a look here, a few words there. All gender serves, at the end of the day, is as a series of “tells” that send signals to other people about the gender of the sender, and Paul is a hyperbolized representation of that. Paul tells the reader that it’s okay to be confused, to be ever-changing, to contain multitudes, and of course, to enjoy it, to enjoy life in all of your and its form. And yeah, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl gets steamy. Enjoy that, too. –Jimmy Cooper (