Monday, August 4, 2014

The Desperates by Greg Kearney

Greg Kearney's hilarious novel The Desperates is set in Ontario in 1998. Nineteen-year-old Joel grew up in Kenora, where his dreamy gay sensibilities had always set him apart. He leaves his small town for Toronto, but Joel has not yet sorted out what he wants to do with his life.

"University wasn't his bag--it was so thinky, so listeny--so he dropped out after three weeks. He thinks he may be a performance artist, but that is only a hunch. He knows he wants to be deranged with love, and to have holy sexual experiences in which both he and the other guy weep throughout from the intensity of the intimacy."

In Toronto, Joel lives in a house with four non-communicative gay men. After deciding to debut his poetry at an open mic event, he leaves a note on the bare bulletin board in their shared kitchen: "Come and see me perform at Tandem next Wednesday! Love, Joel." An hour later, the note has been removed and replaced with one in all capitals: "THIS IS A PRIVATE HOME, NOT A TELEPHONE POLE!"

No need to pity Joel for this slight; he blunders on, unfazed.

Meanwhile, there's a young hustler named Binny who befriends an elderly man whose lover died during the AIDS epidemic. Binny's druggie slang and Paris Is Burning way of speaking confuses Edmund, but also delights him. Binny is all about realness:

"'Is that crack,' she says! I'm not that ghetto. I'm only riding in the car with Diva Whitney, 'I Will Always Love You' video filmed sitting down because of pregnancy realness."

"I want to be a female professional singer, and songwriter, like, a Canadian treasure like Diva Buffy Sainte-Marie, I breast-fed my baby on Sesame Street realness."

"I'm not going to wear silk pyjamas. That's too 'show tune' for me. Props to Diva Liza, Pet Shop Boys 'Don't Drop Bombs' 12 inch remix, hip replacement realness, but I don't go there personally."

There's plenty more from Binny, but other characters get great lines too.

Under Binny's influence, Edmund lets loose. A little too loose. He tells Joel: "Now I sound like something that fell out of Grace Slick's purse."

Joel's grandmother Hazel tells him how much harder it was when she grew up. "My only toy was a clump of hair in a rubber band I found by the side of the road." (Which reminded me of the line in Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows, about having nothing to play with as a child but the wind.)

Joel, Binny, Edmund, Hazel and the rest of the wacky characters are desperate to have their desires fulfilled. This book made me laugh out loud.

Readalikes: Fruit (Brian Francis); The Pursemonger of Fugu (Greg Kramer); and Cooking with Frenet Branca (James Hamilton-Paterson).

No comments: