I found Dykette an extremely cringe-inducing read, which I think is intentional. So do I think the book is successful as a novel? Yes. Did I enjoy reading it? Sometimes. Would I recommend it? I guess it depends on your feelings about gross-out performance art and “High-Femme Camp Antics.” (Personally, I think my tolerance for “High-Femme Camp Antics” in actual life is extremely low; my tolerance for them in fiction is only a little higher.)
But let me back up: I really like the premise of Dykette, which is mostly set over a ten-day period in late December 2019/early January 2020, with occasional flashbacks to earlier moments. The book centers around three butch/femme couples: Jesse and Sasha (who have been dating for a year), and Jesse’s best friend Lou and their girlfriend Darcy (whose relationship is newer) are in Hudson, NY, spending the holidays with Jules and Miranda, “their queer elders” (who have been together for five years). Jules is a Rachel Maddow-esque newscaster; Miranda is a licensed social worker. Jesse works as a set decorator for movies and TV shows; Sasha is getting her PhD in literature/gender studies. Lou runs a “design-oriented home goods shop in Bushwick”; Darcy is internet-famous and works “at a Lower East Side atelier called waïfhewn,” selling “waif-hewn pants and beaded purses for a couple hundred dollars apiece.” While they’re in Hudson, Jesse and Darcy are going to live-stream a performance piece from the backyard sauna; the performance piece is based on an essay Sasha wrote that made her mildly internet-famous, and Sasha is very jealous about this artistic collaboration. Oh, and Sasha’s emotional support pug, Vivienne, is spending the holidays in Hudson with them too.
All of which sounds like it could be super-funny—and sometimes it is. But also, Sasha is pretty insufferable in her bitchiness and neediness and jealousy, and the whole milieu of all these characters is very much not my scene. I don’t care about the suitcase of clothes Sasha has brought upstate, or the very impractical boots Darcy wears for a walk by Kaaterskill Falls, or Sasha’s skincare and make-up routine (which is described for almost a whole page); I have never watched an episode of Vanderpump Rules or Gossip Girl. At one point Sasha is described as someone who doesn’t “notice things like birds singing or the moon changing shape in the sky,” which I think is part of why I find her so unrelatable. Not that the point of a novel is necessarily to have relatable characters. But as far as friends-at-a-country-house books go, I liked Gary Shteyngart’s Our Country Friends much more than I liked this one (and it was also filled with characters I didn’t relate to in various ways).