‘The butch is an anarchist…’
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Published in: March-April 2024 issue.


by Hannah Levene
Nightboat Books, $17.95

“OH BABY it’s another night at Louis’ place” in Hannah Levene’s debut novel Greasepaint, where the Butch on Piano (BOP) faction has important matters to discuss. Louis Brooks calls the meeting to order, reminding everyone of “shake,” “RATTLE,” and “ROLL”—the BOP’s three main characteristics of revolutionary worldbuilding. Harry, the butch who “made the girls melt like tears into a pillow,” strolls in late. But to Sammy Silver, editor of the anarchist newspaper they have gathered to discuss, Harry is right on time. They have to go over her interview in the upcoming newsletter about a Porgy and Bess production touring in Leningrad that includes a discussion of what it means to collaborate on art as a Black American. After that, they’ll play music and smoke and hide from their exes—a typical Friday night for butch dykes and Jewish anarchists in 1950s New York.

            Levene uses an ensemble cast of characters, including the Anarchists, the All-Americans, and the BOP, to immerse the reader in the butch-femme bar scene, one similar to that of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. Rather than a linear plot to move the story forward, the narrative is more impulsive, less conventional, with unanticipated shifts in the tone and topic of the conversation. With this experimental structure, intimate conversations between characters are placed alongside song lyrics and quotations from newspaper interviews and outside texts, creating a patchwork of oral and written history that mimics the rhythm of the improvisational jazz they perform onstage.

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Allison Armijo, the web editor for this magazine, is a creative writing student at Emerson College in Boston.