High school senior Abby’s home life in Washington, D.C., is a mess best left untouched, and her love life? Ugh. She’s still reeling from her breakup with her ex-girlfriend, Linh, and trying to figure out how they can go back to being friends. Little things like her college applications have been forgotten altogether. When she must improvise her senior creative writing project on the fly, she randomly lands on 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. As she starts researching in order to write her own modern novel in the same style, she becomes obsessed with one pseudonymous author (known as Marian Love) and decides to find her real identity.
Abby’s story in the present dovetails with another tale set in 1955, when closeted teen Janet Jones finds one of those same novels. In the 1950s, those pulpy novels are required to have tragic endings or a spontaneous renunciation of same-sex love, and it seems as though Janet’s own story is headed that way. The best friend she’s in love with isn’t prepared to lose everything, and running away seems like the only option.
Author Robin Talley (Lies We Tell Ourselves) contrasts Abby’s life in present-day D.C., where she’s comfortably out to her friends and busy protesting Trump-era policies, with Janet’s in 1955, when even a rumor of homosexuality is grounds for investigation under the pretext of exposing Communists. This comparison makes Pulp both a mystery and a history lesson, and it’s quite moving. Talley’s afterword highlights some of the real history—complete with lists of real lesbian pulp fiction authors and their published titles—that underlies Janet’s fictional story. It’s remarkable how far gay rights and U.S. culture have come, but Talley notes that you can still be fired or evicted for being gay in 28 states today.
Pulp neatly moves between two similar girls’ very different worlds and offers a pointed reminder that history is never that far behind us.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Behind the Book essay from Robin Talley on Pulp.