Let Me See It: Stories

James Magruder, Author
James Magruder. Northwestern Univ./TriQuarterly, $18.95 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5244-1
Reviewed on: 04/28/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Paperback - 290 pages - 978-1-936833-20-7
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In this witty, elegiac collection of linked stories, Magruder (Sugarless) traces the paths of two gay cousins, Tom Amelio and Elliott Biddler, as they grow up in the Midwest and eventually become wised-up, crisis-addled adults. Spanning 1971 to 1992, and set in cities ranging from Madison, Wis., to Paris, the collection captures a critical chapter in gay history. The innocent crushes and clumsy sexual forays we witness in early stories (“Tenochtitlán,” “Use Your Head”) give way to darker entries (“Elliott Biddler’s Vie Bohème,” “Elbows and Legs”), in which the cousins, entering adulthood in the ’80s, begin to feel the threat of AIDS. Despite this occasionally morbid background, Magruder’s tales are consistently light-footed. “Buccellati” finds Elliott, “the first to take his shirt off on the dance floor,” and Tom, a “working stiff,” navigating gay romance in New York, while “Mistress of the Revels,” a perfect, acrid portrait of theater life, allows Magruder to put his experience as a playwright to use. Though each story can be read as a standalone, the collection works better as a chronological whole, bringing to light the finer nuances of the cousins’ development. Magruder’s poetic insights—a gravely ill Elliott’s face resembles “a battered wasps’ nest”—are offset by his tendency to bow tie stories with too-tidy conclusions. But this collection—especially its final, tragic entry—will leave readers moved. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (June)
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