Short story review: 10/6/21
YOU'RE PRETTY GAY
by Drew Pisarra
... a splendid, bizarre, baffling short story collection…
Truth is a fluid construct in this splendid, bizarre, baffling short story collection - or, more bluntly, you can’t rely on a word you read. For all the universality of certain emotions and experiences, and Pisarra’s urge to unite his readership with each other and the narrator, each tale is whimsical, surprising, and frequently just untrue. He leads us from gritty realities to the impossible with the air of a child proudly displaying a new magic trick. Arctic Chill, a story about watching his friends succumbing to AIDS, turns into a flying visit to Mrs Claus, to partake of cocoa and receive presents.
Gosh, though, he can write. So fluently and flawlessly I will even forgive his passion for magical realism. He states ancient truisms so cleverly and pithily it frequently made me gasp. “Violence is random only to the perpetrator”, he tells us, in his tale of a school bully, Fatherland, a study of power, otherness, fear; “to the victim it is always specific.” He appeals to our senses - “All memories are triggered by smells”, he explains, and these stories come ready scented, with “delicately farted gin”, the “steaming blood of childbirth”, the “fresh cut wood of a new house.” The seedy drag show where two friends go to forge new identities is illuminated by a broken disco ball, “conferring a glittering if fractured benediction.”
This is a meditation chiefly on identity - is it chiefly genetics or environment that make us, or skew us? What makes us the people we become? He’s fascinated too by the tiny freak chances that turn lives, the unexpected alley down which one might turn, the missed glance or misspoken word.
The first story is addressed to his reader in a series of “You” statements, offering some universally applicable truths - “You had a rough childhood and it’s a source of pleasure to talk about this with friends” - it’s a bold choice, to begin by pointing out how uniform and unsurprising his readership will be, how similar back stories and motivations have seen us gravitate to his book. It feels mildly offensive, depressing, cynical, but he’s probably right. Who would pick up a short story collection called You’re pretty gay? Doubtless they do share some characteristics.
And yet, for all these are the recollections of a gay male poet and performer living in New York, recalling his childhood and a series of firsts - first kiss, first date, first foray into a sticky tosspit - he deals with topics that are pretty well universal: the urge to belong, to feel desired and desirable, to seek out love and sex and safety; the devastating fallout when these urges lead you to a contradictory turmoil.
He leads us from this second person diatribe rather beautifully and seamlessly into the universality of first love, telling us of his first boyfriend, whose name changes every time he’s mentioned - a nod to the interchangeability of our experiences, perhaps? He takes us through the relationship, through petty squabbles to deeper chasms - “Let’s enjoy it and horrify ourselves. Let’s watch the other cry and not register it on the outside.” Drew Pisarra once toured as a ventriloquist. Bet that was a show worth seeing.
Intriguing, multi-textured, flavoured with longing, these stories will linger in your bones long after this short collection is read. Last word to Mr Pisarra, who no longer needs a dummy to help him be heard: “Life seemed like such a sad gamble with only the slimmest chance at one final surprise. And yet I was willing to play. Whatever the prize.”
Review: MELISSA TODD
YOU'RE PRETTY GAY by Drew Pisarra