“I have a boyfriend.”
The main character in Tara Atkinson’s new novella, Boyfriends, says that multiple times, but it’s not a statement of ownership or an appreciation of a fact. Instead, she uses the sentence as a talisman to ward off other guys when they get creepy, when they try to make a move on her. It’s not enough that she’s simply not interested in the men. She has to announce that she “belongs” to another man before they’ll leave her alone. Only if she’s taken will they stop trying to fuck her. So she tells them that—sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not—and they leave her alone.
Boyfriends is the story of an unnamed protagonist from youth to adulthood, but it tracks her life only as it relates to her boyfriends. The story really gets started only when a man—OK, a boy—notices her for the first time:
“At church the next Sunday Miles passes her a note written on the program.
‘You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I want to kiss you forever. Will you go out with me?’
She writes ‘yes’ and passes it back.
For the rest of high school he is her boyfriend.”
It’s that simple: Say yes to a single clumsy advance, and in the next instant your identity has been sorted out for the next four years. That “yes” changes her life forever; she gradually loses her best friend (whose name, hilariously, is Ally) because her boyfriend changes the chemical balance of their friendship. It affects her choice of schools. It directs the flow of her future romantic relationships.
Read the rest of this review in Seattle Weekly’s print edition, or here online at seattlereviewofbooks.com.
Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage