Double Teenage tells the story of Celine and Julie, two girls coming of age in the 1990s in a desert town close to the US-Mexico border. Starting from their shared love of theater, the girls move into a wider world that shimmers with intellectual and artistic possibility, but at the same time, is dense with threat.
This unrelenting novel shines a spotlight on paradoxes of Western culture. It asks impossible questions about the media’s obsession with sexual violence as it twins with a social unwillingness to look at real pain. It asks what it feels like to be a girl, simultaneously a being and a thing, feeling in a marketplace. Wherever they are—whether in a dance club in El Paso or an art lecture in Vancouver—these characters find themselves in a brutal landscape.
This is a portrait of the recent past, seen through the cloudy lens of now, of friends struggling within self-destructive realities. Part bildungsroman, part performance, part passionate essay, part magic spell, whatDouble Teenage ultimately offers is a way to see through violence into an emotionally alive place beyond the myriad traps of girlhood.
“Like the Celine and Julie of Jacques Rivette’s film, Joni Murphy’s protagonists are highly attuned to magical forces. But, growing up Las Cruces, New Mexico—a town that they separately flee for points north—the magic they see is infused with unfathomable violence. From the micro-inflictions of ‘self harm’ to the criminal and systemic violence that surrounds them, they struggle to make sense of their surroundings by whatever means are available to them: sex, romance, and drugs; literature and fashion; art, theater, and critical theory.Double Teenage is the definitive book of The Young Girl. It’s also a definitive book about NAFTA, the Ciudad Juarez femicides, spectacular serial killings, culture and class, and the comforting media-lull of repetition. In an effort to understand, if not everything, at least those things that surround her protagonists, Murphy writes with an unforced and calm beauty.Double Teenage is a stunning first novel, moving with stealth and intelligence against the North American landscape.”—Chris Kraus
“‘In this world / there were two kinds of girls, / Celine and Julie were neither.’ Joni Murphy’sDouble Teenage is a novel of shadowy doubles, tracking the ghosts of adolescent girlhood between America’s ‘true west’ and western civilization itself. At once sober and elegiac, Murphy’s novel snakes from southern New Mexico to Chicago, from the confusions of adolescent sex to the ruins of love in adulthood, from real murder to its images in tv and literature and, yes, theory—passing in and out of a Ciudad Juarez of the mind. Is it possible to survive girlhood? Are dead women the only kind our culture wants or understands? Joni Murphy’s searching new novel is a book of questions which have no answer, questions begged as much by the obscenity of facts as by the record of our phantasms: our movies, our TV, our Bolaño, our borders. Read it.”—Ariana Reines
“Joni Murphy speaks to us directly. She speaks to us from a place of borders, of countries, and of languages that are strange to her and in need of reinvention. Through her ear and her eye, through her transmissions from these dusklands, we recognize something actual, an event or place, but cross-examined, rendered and remixed. Sometimes theatrical, sometimes cinematic, always urgent and painted on a broad canvas, unafraid of the depth of each landscape, of the mountains that we cannot see that lie beyond the mountains that we can. Her monologues follow the flow of thought—visual, critical, poetic, nostalgic. She speaks to where we are now—when the ‘we’ is the individual and the body politic, in this historical moment, where this marginal place, through the thought of her writing, becomes the centre.”—Matthew Goulish
“Joni Murphy has made a series of portraits, depictions not ultimately of people, but rather of a specific ambition, the only ambition that she feels is real, or can be real. Here there is an urge toward knowledge, but never knowledge that can be completely obtained. That which can be had completely cannot be trusted, says Murphy. Truth must be partial, glimpsed in bent glass, or found in its afterimage, wounding. Trysts, bodies, beds, books, they function as spurs. Here they are never what they are, but only road signs pointing elsewhere… not to a place but to a sort of journey.”—Jesse Ball
“Double Teenage is undoubtedly a feminist text, but it isn’t one that offers a pretty picture of its characters overcoming male-dominated systems of power. The book ends with that cryptic line: ‘This is a spell for getting out of girlhood alive.’ Either this is Murphy’s metaphor for the entire book and the instructions are hidden within its pages, or it is a nihilistic gesture to show that the systems of patriarchy are embedded so deeply within every aspect of our society that only something as impossible as magic can fix it.”—Shannon Tien, Maisonneuve
“Murphy seems to suggest this interpersonal connection that endures despite external and internalized misogyny is magic and is its own dizzying and overlapping network of survival and creation. In a culture mostly interested in the spectacle of dead girls,Double Teenage is a formally provocative counter spell to the facts of violence.”—Adèle Barclay, The Rusty Toque