“What pulls us to a place? Why are there people we can’t help being around, people who aren’t really friends and aren’t family but just as sticky?”
gods with a little g by Tupelo Hassman roped me in from the first line: “If you were flying in a plan over Rosary, California, the first thing you’d see is me, a skinny white girl with messy hair and a big backpack, waving you on. “Keep going,” I’d say.”
Sixteen year old Helen Dedleder is the skinny white girl and Rosary is the small, secluded oil refinery town she lives in, run by ridged Evangelicals. With censored media and blocked internet access, the town fears for the loss of their youths souls but Helen could care less. Still rattled with grief over the death of her mother, lost to cancer when Helen was just a girl, Helen seeks solace with her friends, the self proclaimed “Dickheads.” They drink beer in Fast Eddie’s tire yard after school, read porn novels in tent forts and wonder what it will be like to finally leave Rosary behind when they are finally eighteen.
Helen also spends time at her Aunt Bev’s frowned upon Psychic Encounter Shoppe, where she acts as her aunts accountant, keeping track of the palm and tarot card readings along with the other more intimate acts that happen after hours in Bev’s bedroom. Helen’s father, the town’s postman, moves about Helen’s world like a ghost, a half formed person still mourning the death of his wife. But soon, he begins dating Bird’s mother, the bad boy Helen has a crush on. At the same time, her best friend Winthrop, confesses his love for her, a fact she did not expect.
Tupelo Hassman’s depiction of adolescence is spot on. She so beautifully, comically and vividly captures the confusing, melancholy, triumphant, slightly magical and discomfortable of what it means to live in a teenage body. Helen’s inner monologue has her constantly grappling with right or wrong, feeling as though she is a bad person who can’t be changed, who doesn’t deserve love. Yet, she finds connection in the unlikeliest of places, within a band of misfits in a tire salvage yard. “When I was a teenager, I too was at risk in certain ways. I was on my own and pretty feral. But I had friendships that were a life raft. That's where all of this came together. I was thinking of how fucked up teenagers can be yet how they are what sustains each other,” said Hassman in our interview. Hassman handles the teenage experience with such care and attention, you can feel how meaningful and true each one of her characters are. It’s obvious they are special to her.
Divided into short chapters with titles that touch the heart of the narrative, we are taken on a journey through Helen’s eyes, as we watch her figure out who she is, what she wants and what her place in the world is. This is a story about the life saving power of friendship, the notion of family, the meaning of otherness, of unity, of grief, and of love. gods with a little g is bursting with magic.
gods with a little g
By Tupelo Hassman
368 page. 2019