cover image Blackouts


Justin Torres. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-29357-4

Torres’s ambitious sophomore outing (following We the Animals) intersperses a fictional biography of early 20th-century sex researcher Jan Gay with an enticing if murky present-day narrative. The unnamed 20-something narrator visits a dying man named Juan, whom he first met at 17, when they were patients at a psychiatric hospital. Now, after having accidentally flooded his apartment, the narrator moves into Juan’s rundown building (inhabited, in Juan’s words, by a “badling of queer ducks”) and promises to carry out Juan’s unfinished project involving a research study published in 1941—Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns by George W. Henry—that draws on Gay’s research. Juan’s copy of the book is heavily redacted, leaving “little poems of illumination... a counternarrative to whatever might have been Dr. Henry’s agenda,” to de-pathologize Henry’s case studies and restore the egalitarian spirit of Gay’s groundwork. Juan and the narrator’s dialogues can feel contrived, but just as the Sex Variants erasure poems sparkle with possibility, so too does Torres make fruitful use of references to literature and art, including a Carl Van Vechten photo of a famous gay male ballet dancer and a children’s book by Gay’s partner Zhenya, the latter of which proves to contain deliciously queer subtext. At its best, this captures the spirit of Torres’s pangs of inspiration. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)