Love is a nasty but hilarious bitch:
Greg Kearney's The Desperates
By Drew Rowsome
’Tis is the season for stocking up on reading material to accessorize a beach getaway in the south. Greg Kearney's The Desperates is not that book. But The Desperates is perfect for when a vacation getaway in paradise is ruined by rain or hurricaned into disaster, or can't be afforded leaving one trapped in the snow and cold. Far beyond a trifling distraction while soaking up sun, The Desperates is a pageturner that will not only make you laugh out loud but will also make you feel good about life and your current situation; no matter how dire that may, tragically or weather-wise, be.
Kearney's first novel evokes the joy of reading his short story collection Pretty (and if you haven't, you will as soon as you finish The Desperates). The same pitch black humour, hilarious lines and situations are here in abundance, but they are weaved into an irresistible Canadian Gothic saga that gallops at a breakneck pace. Joel, whose magnificently mundane saga is the main dramatic thrust, is a failed performance artist/tortured romantic, who is forced by circumstances to return to Kenora to comfort his mother - a spectacular comic monster of a creation - who is dying of lung cancer. Running parallel is the tale of Edmund, an older AIDS survivor, who has fallen into the company of his own sacred monster, a masochistic hustler named Binny. While Joel struggles with an impending death and the horrors of his past, Edmund descends into a sex and meth fuelled denial of his past.
What should be bleak and depressing plotlines become, in Kearney's pitch perfect prose, an vivisection of grief and the human condition executed with razor-sharp one-liners. But the laughter has a purpose beyond mockery or superior judgement: Edmund's sexual torment is horrific but we also taste the ecstasy he aims for and occasionally achieves; the mother's bitter attacks are contextualized with fierce devotion and a nasty history; Binny's Paris is Burning-inspired lingo erupts feverishly but also reveals his pain; and Joel, poor Joel, learns ti accept being more of a poetic creation than a poet. There is a warmly beating heart at the centre of The Desperates that refuses to be buried by the bile and attempts to offhandedly shock. The Desperates is ultimately touching and a paean to love of all varieties.
Joel (functioning as Kearney's voice?) muses about, "His mother's endless, only slightly cruel curiosity about life's small phenomena . . . Not everyone takes an interest like his mother does; many people prefer to overlook the little curios of a given day." Fortunately Kearney dotes on the small curios of the human psyche and unfurls them for our delectation, amusement and horror. The mother notes that Chatelaine is her favourite magazine, "It's for the more sophisticated woman," and we immediately know exactly who she is. Edmund's decorating and fashion choices speak volumes while Joel and Binny's sexual and musical - Christine McVie over "goat lady" Stevie Nicks - explicate exactly who they are. Of course the mother does also lapse into one-liner drag speak - "Do you like my wig? Do I look like Ann-Margaret or a dying clown?" - but by then she is family and we indulge her.
The Desperates is available at Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge St. cormorantbooks.com, gladdaybookshop.com