cover image Sterling Karat Gold

Sterling Karat Gold

Isabel Waidner. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-64445-213-4

Waidner (We Are Made of Diamond Stuff) spins a vivid if unwieldy tale of the fantastical measures a trans playwright takes against hate crimes and persecution. In the surreal opening, narrator Sterling Beckenbauer is attacked with lances by a picador on horseback in a present-day Camden Town estate. They’re wearing a flamboyant outfit, but queer people get attacked here no matter what (“I knew a gay who looked straight like a Gap advert,” Sterling reflects. “Got hassle still”). Sterling then visits Chacki Smok, their bestie and partner in avant-garde theatre project Cataclysmic Foibles, who presses Sterling to write their next playscript so the pair can collect some much-needed cash. After Sterling is pinched by Kafkaesque cops and charged with assault for the picador incident, Chacki helps Sterling identify two witnesses, sex worker Elesin Colescot and Iraqi immigrant Rodney Fadel, and the four become friends. The line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred as Sterling’s trial turns into a grotesque production of Cataclysmic Foibles, complete with a bird-like judge who’s running a crew of transphobic bullfighters bent on destroying Chacki, Elesin, Rodney, and Sterling. Though a thread involving Sterling time-traveling with Rodney spins out of control, Sterling’s ideas for their final play make for a satisfying note of revenge. Despite the bumps, this is great fun. (Feb.)