Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2008
Review by Elizabeth J. Colen
Characters like Angelique don’t like to settle down. The story moves best when she’s on the move. Trapped inside a cold farmhouse, with an unkind stepfather of questionable morals and by turns a doting and neglectful mother, and the ghosts of fetal pigs dead from hog cholera and butchered for meat regardless, adolescent Angelique feels the pull of a stranger’s flirtations and gets on the road.
In the bath before her departure, Angelique shivers with fear. “Fear was white not a pale yellow, a bright white, the color of all the talk of what happens to girls alone on the road” (11). In this we get a sense of what’s to come. We get a sense that this will be the story told between the leaving and the ditch runaway girls get found in. For who doesn’t want to know how girls disappear if only so ours don’t?
Dickinson introduces us to great characters, fresh and interesting people saying things and doing things we haven’t heard or seen before. Of the first driver who picks her up (with two small boys who turn out not to be his sons in the backseat) she asks, “Do they look like you or your wife?” Then surmises silently with discomfort, “In this little world of the Cutlass, I was his wife, no matter if he wasn’t in the least bit attractive to me” (47). Other minor characters include a bouncer who tries to rape her and robs her instead and a lesbian truck driver in love with a lot lizard along her run.
Queerness in the book is fluid and unselfconscious, adding to the significance of the title and ongoing motif of half—people and animals and environments as comprised of more than one element. In Half Girl we meet “half fags” and “half animals” and no situation is ever as clear as it seems.
We are led to believe this is the story of a girl who runs away and comes home again, not unscathed. But it isn’t exactly. What it really is is the story of boy (half fag) meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl (or rather she finds him when she’s ready to) again. That it’s a love story is not immediately clear. If your expectations or voyeurism or thirst to see a young girl get destroyed are sullied, bully for you—plenty of bad things happen to her. Whether we’re pulling for her or not from the beginning, toward the end we get a sense that she might just be okay.
My only real complaint comes when Angelique faces her biggest challenge, a half-coma state in a hospital bed. While the dexterity with which Dickinson moves in and out of internal scenes and memories and the external world of the hospital is admirable, we never really feel like Angelique won’t pull through. And knowing this, this interim, lying-down time in the book seems to drag a bit long. Angelique the silent patient remarks once that everybody smells of dirt. Perhaps she is smelling the earth they’re pulling over themselves in the bed of their potentially early graves, but never once do we give up on her.