The House of Impossible Beauties

Joseph Cassara. Ecco, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-267697-9
Angie and Venus Xtravaganza were key members of the New York drag ball scene made famous to outsiders by the 1991 film Paris is Burning. Cassara’s debut novel imagines them as runaways fleeing impoverished, unsupportive, or abusive homes; ball circuit stars embodying the glamour they craved; loving sisters and mothers to needy gay teens and each other; and grieving, jonesing, dying women. There’s also a love story between Juanito and Daniel, younger runaways whom Angel (as she’s called here) and Venus take in and teach to walk a ball and work the street. Impressionistically covering the period from 1976 to 1993, the book is long on origin stories and grief, as lovers and friends die of AIDS, johns fail to keep their promises, and cocaine and crystal meth take their toll. What it lacks, besides the ball scene, which readers see little of, is the feeling that Cassara is adding something to the story. While readers who are too young to know this history may appreciate having access to a dramatic moment and some of the legendary figures who populated it, those for whom this is more familiar territory may find themselves wishing for more insight. Angel and Venus may get to tell their story here, but they largely come across the way they looked from afar: as strong yet fragile, street-smart, shade-throwing, generous, and ultimately doomed divas. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2017
Release date: 02/01/2018
Genre: Fiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-5384-9878-1
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-279792-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-5384-9879-8
Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-06-267700-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of HarperAudio
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