Boys Like Us

Boys Like Us - Peter McGehee [These notes made in 1992; I read the Toronto HarperCollins edition of 1991:]. I knew Peter very slightly: a sadly mischievous, wry little man who spent some time at the Gay Archives when I worked there in 89/90. He was only 36 when he died last year of AIDS. It is therefore something of a temptation to sentimentalize one's reaction to his novel, something he - given his unsentimental work - would doubtless have regarded with horror. The novel is brief, fast reading, and often smile-provoking. One guesses that our author, like his protagonist's
black nanny Stellrita, is given to overstatement for the sake of amusement, but still somehow speaks the truth. One also guesses that the novel leans heavily on autobiogaphy. At the very least, the two main settings - the Toronto gay scene, and a childhood home in Arkansas - are ones that McGehee knew personally. The structure of the book is simple: Zero MacNoo (!), our first person narrator, sets the scene in Toronto, goes to his mother's remarriage in Arkansas, then returns to Toronto, where a number of important things have changed. At the beginning, we are introduced to his cast of characters: his close friend, Randy, an actor who is succumbing to AIDS; his ex-lover David, with whom he has broken up after eight years; his current lover Clay, a Bay St. lawyer with whom he has a passionate sex life, but with whom he feels little in common. There are also two friends - Searcy, a drag queen, and Snookums, with whom he works at the office of a journal (did Peter write for Xtra? almost certainly). We get just enough sketches of these people to realize that Zero is feeling dissatisfied with just about every part of his life, when his mother calls to announce her impending remarriage. On a hair-raising turbulent flight Zero, convinced he's about to die, calls Clay and leaves a hysterical "I love you" message. Then things swing into Southern Gothic mode - Zero's family are as fine a cast of oddities as you could imagine, starting with mother, who sleeps with her married lover on the eve of her highly unceremonious marriage to another man. There's a mad father, the aforementioned Stellrita - oh and all sorts of other damaged people. Another traveller beween Zero's two worlds - the improbably named Jesus Las Vegas - brings the news that Randy has collapsed and is in hospital. Zero hotfoots it back to Toronto, to discover that Clay has bought a condo for the two of them, and that his drag queen friend Searcy is out of work because the female-impersonators' club is being closed down. Randy recovers somewhat, but falls in love with someone else, and Zero starts to feel unneeded. Clay kicks him out when he refusees to go and live in the condo. Snookums sets him up with a new apartment - at David's house. And it all ends abruptly - "slice of life," they call it.