Lolita’s book tour
Rebbecca Ray's novel, "Pure," written when she was 16, is a raw work of sexual exposure. Is it autobiographical? "Thank God it's not," she says.
Rebbecca Ray and I are in a vintage clothing store looking at a pair of pale mauve high-heeled shoes. They’re the strappy kind, almost sandals, with crossed fluted fronts and tiny ankle straps. Their round heels pucker into tiny spikes. We are entranced. Around us, as in an overstuffed, half-dusty attic, are piles of slightly aging toys, the relics of a circa 1980s childhood. There are Go-Go’s posters, jelly bracelets, jars of glitter lipstick. And the toys are awesome things, the kind we used to love as kids, or maybe just wanted lots of: Pez dispensers, Barbie dolls and “Star Wars” action figures. Above our heads hang rows of tin lunchboxes with Raggedy Ann and He-Man on them. Ray’s face lights up as she spots one. She claps. “She-ra,” she cries, “Princess of Power!”
In a small hall, beneath Barbie and the lunchboxes, Ray is trying on the high-heeled shoes. Her toes are only halfway in. She looks up at me, quizzically. “They look like they’ll hurt,” I say. “Try these for pain,” Ray says, handing me one of the gold stilettos she has been in all day. It’s a gorgeous skinny thing; she wears it well. She gets her last toe in. She wobbles up, then turns to show me. “I don’t think they’ll be any good at the ball,” I say, “they’ve got to fit.” “They’ll stretch,” she says, peering down at her feet.
Ray is barely 20. It has been two years now since she published her first novel, which in her native U.K. is called “A Certain Age,” and in the U.S. is called “Pure.” After selling 100,000 copies worldwide, it’s being released in the U.S. this month, and she’s on her first trip to the States to do publicity, read and give some interviews. The tour has been a bit upset: She came down with the flu on the first day and hasn’t stopped throwing up since. She didn’t even get to do her reading at the Barnes & Noble here or go to her publishing dinner at Pastis.
She has taken this well, though, very graciously, and came back to the city early and still a little sick to do this interview. By the time I finally meet her, she looks somewhat worn around the eyes, but mostly sweet, and very self-possessed.
“I was puking all night,” she says, and tells the story of a man she’d barely met holding back her hair when she vomited. “I was surprised he stayed around,” she said. “I looked fucking awful.” I try to imagine this. Everything she’s wearing seems to be half-toy, half-sexy, and kind of flip. Her baggy jeans have rhinestones on them. She has on spangly heart-shaped glasses, Lolita style, a yard-sale rainbow tank top and the kind of shawl that couldn’t keep much of anything warm. She looks great.