Finding Solace in the Seedy
Mila Jaroniec’s debut novel is an ode to frenzied love, substance abuse, and the jagged side of NYC
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In the opening scene of Mila Jaroniec’s debut novel, Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover, an unnamed protagonist traverses a fly-infested kitchen to retrieve a bottle of Sobieski from her fridge. After scrolling through pictures of Courtney Love, she ends up drunkenly and impulsively purchasing a plane ticket to Austin, Texas to see her ex girlfriend Sloan. In the next scene she arrives at security still riding the last of the previous nights inebriation, but is soon met with dread and nausea. What will she say to Sloan? Should she buy her a bottle of perfume at the duty free shop? This state of limbo is segmented by memories of their tumultuous relationship as well as recollections of childhood. One thing that is constant throughout the book is Jaroniec’s unflinching tenderness for the dissolution and grunge of New York City, and the broken down people who inhabit it.
The narrator expresses a marked affection for local NYC haunts like The Kiln, an “underground shithole” which is simultaneously “a special and holy place.” The narrator is attracted to corrosion despite the belief that intimacy reduces a person to a “human wiffle ball of rotten love.” The narrator also deliciously and repulsively describes dating post-heartbreak as “stretching something fresh bred in a Petri dish over the frayed hole of a dead thing in full bloom of decay.” She is drawn to Sloan but her first impression of her is unflattering, at first noting muscle hiding under “a languorous layer of fat.” She also notices her hands, which are “small and squat, thick-knuckled, with short stubby fingers that looked like they used to be longer but someone had broken them and shaved the tips off a third of the way through. Action hands…not poetry hands.” The book is comprised of vignettes in which the narrator and Sloan simultaneously enable each other’s substance abuse while dreaming of a future together with children, or at least more “serious” jobs.
This New York centric queer addiction chronicle can be likened to Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls, in which memories of old lovers and NYC bars are segmented by flashbacks of the narrator’s frequently volatile childhood and adolescence. Where Myles’s flashbacks are of her alcoholic father and Catholic upbringing, PVBS’s narrator directly addresses her mysterious and absent older brother. In both narratives, the reader is led to infer that the narrator’s adult dysfunction is rooted in childhood trauma and experience. Both pieces also feature sex scenes that teeter between sexy and grotesque, and play with the lines between repulsion, pain, and ecstasy. Jaroniec references another master of the lesbian addiction narrative, Michelle Tea. The narrator is ecstatic to go to a film rendition of Tea’s 2000 novel Valencia with a flakey romantic interest. When her date bails halfway through the show, the narrator, in true Michelle Tea fashion, gets drunk and goes to a queer orgy. She wakes up sober in a pile of anonymous bodies and treks home alone.
Although PVBS is in some ways a love story, much of the book is about isolation in the thick of intimacy. The narrator describes many of her sexual encounters, including her affair with Morgan, as carnal and lonely. The brief encounter with Morgan is merely an attempt to get warm before the solitary act of, “zipping back up into our respective worlds.” As with the grime of the city, she has an appreciation and affinity for this type of detachment and removal. When she describes her philosophy on one-night, she says that she:
“…always preferred going down on girls to just about anything else. Half was just the experience of it, my tongue inside a girl’s cunt, the taste of it sharp and humid-sweet, but the other was the fact that it let me off the hook from doing anything else — looking them in the eye, saying the right thing at the right time, doing anything that could be meaningful at all. I’d plant my face between their legs and become my mouth, tidal blood and reverberating moans, and connected that way I would disappear. The intimacy paradox: as physically close as you can get to someone, drinking from their center, while being a million miles away. I know this because I always feel intensely, irrevocably alone on the receiving end, my head remote and solitary on the sweaty pillow, in a completely different orbit than the person whose face is stuck between my legs, working her ass off to make me come.”
The end of the novel leaves us where we began: in the airport. Where at the beginning we are imbued with a sense of momentum and excitement, we are ultimately left with the image of a stale and sad airport. The narrator takes a twisted solace in this dingy place. She is engrossed speculating about the desires and motivations of a woman crunching into a heavily fried chicken nugget, and flirts with a woman at the airport bar. At the very end of the book, she alludes to the idea that she wishes she could permanently inhabit this limbo just as Tom Hanks’s character did in the 2004 film, The Terminal.
“[C]onstant throughout the book is Jaroniec’s unflinching tenderness for the dissolution and grunge of New York City, and the broken down people who inhabit it.”
Our narrator is in constant transition. The very structure of the book shows unwillingness to land, to settle on a single time period, narrative, or person. The narrator attempts to crystalize her relationships in a series of moments despite the fact that these moments are in the past, and Sloan has moved on and lives in another state with another woman. The narrator’s mental state, much like the airport she finds herself in, represents a constructed stasis in between two separate and distinctive realities.