cover image Sketchtasy


Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Arsenal Pulp, $17.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-55152-729-1

Caught between revelry and despair, the gay community of ’90s Boston struggles to confront the AIDS crisis in this heart-rending novel from Sycamore (The End of San Francisco). A drag queen who goes by Alexa leaves ACT UP in San Francisco for college in Boston, but drops out when the flashbacks of her father’s molestation and her deepening drug habit begin to converge. She turns tricks to get by and seeks out a therapist. She tells him that in California, “you went to a club one week and the next week the DJ was dead,” and though “just as many people are dying in Boston,” she feels like everybody’s avoiding acknowledging the emergency. Alexa’s friends, sick and strung out, start disappearing, and a scary, ketamine-laced hookup leads her to try AA. What she finds is the first “room full of gay men who are trying to take care of one another” she’s been in since leaving ACT UP. Though Alexa’s nights of cocaine, ecstasy, and dancing can come across as repetitive, Sycamore artfully captures Alexa’s trauma that makes such revelry a necessary release. Even Alexa’s inevitable relapse is made memorable by Sycamore: “There’s the next day,” she writes, “you have to deal with the next day.” This is an excellent novel bolstered by its complex protagonist. [em](Oct.) [/em]