Paul takes the form of a mortal girl is a sharp and fun novel about 90s identity politics and LGBT culture. Paul Polydoris is a bartender at a gay bar in an Iowa university town, but he has a secret: he can shapeshift. As the narrative moves from Iowa to Michigan to Provincetown to San Francisco, Paul finds music, excitement, struggle, and intimacy, but what is key to keep that freedom to transform.
The novel digs deep into Paul’s emotions and connections with other people, but also stays witty and observational. It doesn’t so much have a narrative as it is a picaresque that follows Paul’s existence and journeying, bartender to bookseller, body transforming and style changing. Short inset stories feel like myths and the book has a slightly mythic feel, but ultimately the shapeshifting feels very real, just a fact of life. Lawlor fills the novel with music and pop culture, so that it almost feels like it has a soundtrack as you read it. There’s a lot that different people could take and interpret from it personally, about histories, identities, love, narrative, and a whole lot more.
Paul takes the form of a mortal girl has a carefully created and specific time setting and really creates a sense of place wherever Paul is. It also is a kind of timeless novel, which embraces transformation in a way that is exciting and riotous.