Pulp by Robin Talley

Pulp cover

Pulp is a novel about LGBT history and finding your voice, with a dual narrative that moves between 1955 and 2017. Eighteen-year-old Janet Jones lives in McCarthy era Washington DC and discovering a series of books about women falling in love with other women leads her to try and write a story herself. However, the love she feels for her best friend Marie puts them both in danger and writing a story might not be the best idea. In 2017, Abby Cohen starts a senior project on 1950s lesbian pulp fiction and finds herself obsessed with one book and its author, ‘Marian Love’. She wants to track down the truth, but must also balance her schoolwork, ex-girlfriend, and her parents’ imploding relationship.

The format of the novel means that it is both about and enacting the discovery of LGBT history by people in later decades, using a very personal approach. This makes it a powerful read, with the knowledge that though the pulp authors Talley uses as main characters are fictional, there are many who weren’t. It also addresses how changing perspectives and awareness of issues can complicate this discovery, for example the predominance of white characters in these pulp books. Janet and Abby are engaging main characters, particularly as they are both flawed teenagers who learn more about awareness of themselves and others around them. Abby in particular shuts herself off from people in her life with single minded focus on her project, and has to realise to keep thinking about the future whilst uncovering the past.

Pulp is a book for young adults and adults alike, with an inspiring story that attacks the ‘bury your gays’ trope and shows connections across generations through common experiences and the power of writing. It is a reminder of how the past is vital to forging a future and it has an important message too about how books can both change people’s lives and aren’t the whole story or necessarily true to life.