Review by J.L. Corbett
Writer: Drew Pisarra
Publisher: Chaffinch Press
Release date: 25th June 2021
Price: £10.90 ($14)
You’re Pretty Gay is a rabbit hole. The title alone raises questions. My first reaction was “Am I?”, however the further I read, the more cryptic the title seemed to become.
The book is a collection of short stories which focus upon themes of queerness and self-discovery. This particular genre is often dominated by sweet coming of age tales wherein the protagonist is gutsy yet poised, scared yet brave, and always likable. The stories collected in You’re Pretty Gay, by contrast, disrupt the genre. In Pisarra’s stories, we find the messy, uncensored, and perhaps far more realistic side of self-discovery.
A good example of Pisarra’s unapologetic style is “Arctic Chill”, in which the narrator describes his first gay kiss and the resultant trip to his college’s infirmary, where he was promptly diagnosed with mono. This rather unglamourous glimpse into the narrator’s love life feels refreshingly honest and oddly enough, endeared the narrator to me. There’s no flowery language or saccharine vibes here, just a plainly spoken account of the more unpleasant side of being sexually active.
In “The Hat from Hell”, Pisarra takes the reader on a labyrinthine descent into different versions of hell; the first is a riff on the biblical image we’re all familiar with of flames and discomfort, but this is quickly followed by more nefarious hellscapes – a heteronormative television ad for Doublemint gum, a memory of a homophobic attack, things that are all too real. This sort of deft weaving of the bizarre with the bluntly honest crops up again and again throughout the book, and it’s a real testament to Pisarra’s skill for leading the reader down the garden path before hitting them with some cold, hard truth about our society.
As honest as these stories feel, they often veer into the fantastical and remind us that they are, in fact, fictional. “Artic Chill” takes a sharp turn into whimsy when the narrator decides to fly northwards and meet Mrs Claus for a chat. In a later story, “Every Man for Myself”, the narrator abandons a sexual encounter with a stranger upon discovering that the guy owns way too many Disney figurines to be considered normal. There’s something about these scenes that feels vaguely psychedelic – they’re always relevant to the story, but almost seem to take place on a different plane of existence.
If I had to find a criticism of the book, I’d perhaps say that if a reader was to see the title and pick it up expecting to find a wholesome story of self-discovery and acceptance, they’d be disappointed. Entertained, but probably disappointed. But this is what makes You’re Pretty Gay so interesting – it subverts our expectations of what a book focused on the queer experience should be and shows us that in serious topics there can still be fun. Pisarra gives us the strange, bizarre and anomalous blended with moments of honesty. In terms of tonality, it can at times be confusing, but the overall it’s fun ride, and one that will stay with me for a while.
You can buy your copy of You’re Pretty Gay here.
A literary grantee of both the Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation and Curious Elixirs: Curious Creators, Drew Pisarra is the author of You’re Pretty Gay (2021), a collection of short stories, Infinity Standing Up (2019), a collection of homoerotic sonnets, and The Strange Case of Nick M. (2021), a radio play commissioned by Imago Theatre. Additionally, he was a featured poet at A Gathering of the Tribes two-day reading at The Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet As It’s Kept.