Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

Pulp - Robin Talley

I have many, many thoughts about "Pulp" upon finishing it, yet I think it's easier to start with the note of how ambitious, well-researched, emotional and engaging this book was overall. I knew I'd be taken in from the premise of two narrators from the past and present intersecting in a gripping way. The fact that one of them - from the present - is researching lesbian pulp fiction as a part of her senior project was one that made me raise my eyebrows and say "Ooooh, that's cool." (Though thinking back to my high school senior project obligations, I second-hand cringed because that was a lot of work and deadlines. For all the ways that Abby gets swamped and struggles to meet the obligations of her teacher's prompting for assignment completion, I felt for her. For the curious, my project dealt with the genetic differences between different types of twins. Try to guess why, heheheh. ^_^ )

To set the stage of this novel specifically, Abby - in 2017 - is taking on this interesting senior project while dealing with many different weights in her life. She's trying to navigate her relationship with her friend/ex-girlfriend and her parents are steadily drifting apart, never seeming to be there for her or her younger brother anymore. As a means of escaping some difficult situations and a future she doesn't quite have answers for, Abby throws herself into researching a once popular lesbian pulp author named "Marian Love". Abby becomes so engrossed in Marian's story that she wants to determine what happened to the author in the vein of writing her most famous story. Soon it becomes more than just a project for Abby and a full on, borderline obsessive quest.

Enter the other piece of the story, back to 1955 when Janet is coming to terms with her own sexuality in a time when the stakes are high to be in such a relationship. I felt so badly for Janet on many levels because she's so in love, wants to be true to herself and be with the girl that she's hopelessly fallen in love with. She juggles her job at the Shake Shack while also wanting to be a writer and produce some of the same stories that captivate her attention. However, in navigating the prejudices of the time, there's the risk of being shunned by her family AND falling into the clutches of McCarthyism, some clashes which put her and friends dangerously into governmental and societal crosshairs.

I won't spoil how Abby and Janet's stories converge, but it's an experience that as the novel progressed to its conclusion I felt satisfied to watch. I felt that way even when the events were difficult to see unfold for the characters because of how both Abby and Janet grew from those experiences overall. There are moments of sweetness within the more complex and emotional moments of this novel, and I genuinely rooted for both Abby and Janet as I saw what happened to both of them as time went on and they discovered more, not just about the times they lived within, but ultimately how they were able to get to a place where both of them were happy and came into their own. In some pieces of the work, the pacing dragged its heels more than I thought it would, but I did enjoy "Pulp" collectively for what it offered, and it's a story I would read again and have in my personal library.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher; I also bought a copy of the book.