WINNER OF A 2014 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD
Order the book from City Lights
Order the book from your local independent bookstore via Indiebound
Read a review in
Chiasma: A Site for Thought
San Francisco Bay Guardian
San Francisco Chronicle
Litseen (with video!)
Front Porch Journal
New York Journal of Books
THE END OF SAN FRANCISCO
“Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore — outspoken queer anti-assimilation activist, genderblending thriftstore style icon, archetypal Mission District character, huge-hearted den mother, insufferable gadfly — is the posterchild for all that was culturally alternative in San Francisco in that pierced-lip poser decade [the '90s], while at the same time possessing one of the loudest voices cutting through the bullshit clamor back then and questioning it all. She's also a brilliant writer… Her new memoir The End of San Francisco from City Lights Books is written in such a hypnotically elliptical style (summoning City Lights' Beat poet legacy) and contains so many spot-on observations and era-damning epigrams that anyone who lived through the period described will cling to its pages while wishing to hurl the book at a wall in embarrassed self-recognition. Searing, funny, maudlin, elegiac, infuriating, and confessional, The End of San Francisco is a deliberately disordered collection of vignettes dealing mostly with Sycamore's span living in the city… Along the way we get drug overdoses, AIDS, lesbian potlucks, heroin chic, crystal meth, ACT UP, the birth of the Internet, the dot-com boom, the dot-com bust, mental breakdowns, outdoor cruising, phony spirituality, Craigslist hookups, hipster gentrification, Polk Street hustling, fag-bashing, shoplifting, house music, the Matrix Program, crappy SoMa live/work lofts, "Care Not Cash," gallons of bleach and hair dye, and processing, processing, and more processing. It's definitely not a nostalgia-fest: Juicy passages about SF club history, '90s queer life in the Mission, and Gay Shame's internal dynamics and gloriously kooky pranks… are accompanied by an Oprah-load of issues including chronic pain, incest, personal betrayals, anorexia, depression… This, then, is the tenderness that drives [Sycamore] to keep speaking out, despite the personal costs. As we weather another dot-com boom of homogenizing gentrification, The End of San Francisco is a timely reminder of the community that can spring from resistance.”
—San Francisco Bay Guardian
“One of the most important memoirs of the decade”
“Can memoir be honest, emotionally or otherwise? Is counterculture actually possible as a way to live? What happens to those who dream of a radical queer community when the dream fails? Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s latest book, The End of San Francisco, is a despairing memoir of loss — the loss of the dream of radical queer San Francisco, the loss of formative friendships, the loss of personal and political innocence. Written in a free-associative style and merging personal and social history, it is — like all of Sycamore’s work — innovative both formally and politically… The End of San Francisco is the opposite of nostalgia. Nostalgia is fundamentally conservative, and its conservatism is often embedded in the form in which stories are told. The End of San Francisco seems to me radical, not just in content, but formally, in insisting on other ways of remembering and documenting.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“An outspoken, gender-ambiguous author and activist reflects on her halcyon days as a wild child in San Francisco… Delivered in a free-form, associative writing style, Sycamore’s effort to exorcise the demons from her past is blunt, dynamic and original.”
“[A] frantic kaleidoscope of mourning and survival… recklessly transfigured through language and imagination.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Leave it to Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore to have us all excited about the end of San Francisco… Her writing is furious and unlike anything you’ve ever read… Drunk on language that ought to be incomprehensible but is somehow piercingly lucid, [Sycamore] wails elegiac for the dream of a transcendent queer culture once glimpsed with such promise here."
"This autobiography is a story of the way people fail each other, whether out of malice or exhaustion or just not knowing how to be there. It’s a chronicle of the ways that we need each other, and the way that need can be turned around, inside-out, torn in all the wrong places but still the only blanket that you have. It’s about critiquing out of love and loving despite critique, despite failure, until you can't do it anymore, until you genuinely feel as though an entire city has come to an end."
"Sycamore’s work… is structurally challenging, and reads like it was driven more by free association — Freud’s psychoanalytic technique that employs spontaneous and unconstrained collecting of emotions and ideas — than by any style taught in an English literature classroom. The result is brilliant, a collection of unstructured vignettes about sex abuse, dying parents, feminism and veganism, Tracy Chapman and Le Tigre, dyke bars and gay tricks, AIDS and ACT UP that all weave together a life of hope in ’90s San Francisco and the disappointment
“Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s long awaited memoir… will rip you open; crack your rib-cage and pour glitter into your heart… Brutal and brilliant, the memoir weaves in and out of time, bringing readers into the intimate details of Sycamore’s adolescence and early activist days. Never defaulting to tidy recounts, cleaned with the passage of time, Sycamore invites readers to share in the complexities of growing up and finding yourself. Sycamore doesn’t shy away from pain, terror, or disappointment… There is no rose-colored revisionist memory here. Expertly, Sycamore tells not only the story of her past, but also gives a glimpse into the world of anyone who was ever young, idealistic, and too queer.”
“The End of San Francisco begins and ends with intense wants for recognition and connectivity. Throughout, there isn’t one part where [Sycamore] is disengaged from this intensity. But that want for more, for something deeper, for integrative relationships and structural change, which is so often mistaken for cynicism, is fueled by love and aspirations. The most devastating part of the book for me occurred about halfway through. After she has built these relationships she has spent years trying to find, create, and foster, her friends turn violently against her. It is clear throughout the book and particularly in that moment that dreaming of difference is dangerous. If we are hoping for relationships that dive into our innermost thoughts and our broadest, demanding visions of sustained, transformative community, we are working against massively ingrained cultural limitations about how we are supposed to casually, superficially connect with one another. To not feel alone in our sense, in Mattilda’s sense, of relating is to constantly create something new.”
“A whirring, thoughtful—but not nostalgic—elegy for San Francisco as queer haven. The book is invested in trying to understand, in trying to process both joyful and traumatic experiences even before laying them out in linear time… The book weaves and glitters, it holds the hopes and threats of Clairice Lispector’s The Passion of G.H. and also
David Wojnarowicz’s blood-filled egg—one of his images for rage—while at the same time creating its own brave, tender, kinetic world.”
“A fin-de-siècle late '90s narrative that captures the city's underground demimondaine of artists, punks, activists, anarchists and addicts whose ranks will soon be, if not completely swept away by the tech boom's false promises, then severely thinned by gentrification.”
“For many of us—the weird ones, the dissatisfied ones, the ones who get bored easily—young adulthood is less sketched out in events than in geographies… A new city can be a canvas on which the young and the angry get to experiment with themselves, to sketch out the boundaries of their personalities. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's whip-raw memoir The End of San Francisco is all about that experience, the need to discover who you are by defining yourself in a place. She avoids the
clichés of other angry young memoirs by sharing her protagonist role with San Francisco… [W]hen you leave a city like that, it hurts like hell, but it feels like emerging from a chrysalis, too, because what
you're really leaving behind is you.”
“Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's masterful new memoir tracks a radical activist's education in a changing city… In the annals of queer memoirs, some conventions have become cliches: Being Misunderstood, Coming Out, the First Relationship, Running Away. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's new memoir, The End of San Francisco, reworks all of these into a text where memory is inherently unstable, and where such experiences achieve a freshness while remaining uncompromisingly queer. It's a text that both remembers and reminds but is also a record of a historical and cultural forgetting… This isn't a nostalgic piece but that rare thing, a political memoir told with personal candor, and which makes it clear that the connection between fucking and political change is always palpable.”
“The End of San Francisco could be the most insightful break-up memoir the city has ever received.”
“Shirking the idea that time unfolds linearly and our lives are both affectively lived and narrated chronologically, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's The End of San Francisco gives us memoir as "an active process of remembering" to be experienced simultaneously by author and reader. At its core, The End of San Francisco is a narrative of emotions loosely tied together in constellations of events. It's a trippy read—in multiple senses of the word—but at the same time profoundly honest and raw.”
"The book is a radical alternative in its own right, foregoing a linear narrative structure and telling stories of some the world’s outsiders: queer people, sex workers, drug addicts, anarchists and others."
—Capitol Hill Times
"Mattilda is a dazzling writer of uncommon truths, a challenging writer who refuses to conform to conventionality. Her agitation is an inspiration."
—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
"Bring on The End of San Francisco! And Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, whose new book has reinvented memoir without the predictable gloss of passive resolution. This book is undeniably brave and new, and the internal energy churning at its core is like nothing you've seen, heard or read before. I swear."
—T Cooper, author of Real Man Adventures
"We hear so much about coming-of-age narratives that we seldom think about going-of-age—the shutting down and closure, the making sense of where we've been. Written with grace, reserve, and the honest tremblings that come when things matter, Mattilda shows us that The End of San Francisco is really the beginning of joy."
—Daphne Gottlieb, author of 15 Ways to Stay Alive