cover image Just by Looking at Him

Just by Looking at Him

Ryan O’Connell. Atria, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7858-1

O’Connell navigates internalized homophobia and ableism in his hysterical debut novel (after the memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves), a ripsnorter set in Los Angeles. Elliott, the protagonist, introduces readers to his “perfect” boyfriend, Gus, whom he increasingly resents. After almost six years together, the two are in a rut of ordering takeout, drinking natural wine, and having dissociative sex. Elliott is living with cerebral palsy, and despite having a flashy job writing for television, he can’t help but think “modern life is hell.” After an eyebrow-raising story from his boss involving hiring a sex worker, Elliott sets off on a trip of self-sabotage turned self-discovery, as he probes his relationships with sex and his body, alcohol, disability (“I work very hard to appear palatable, easy to digest, the crostini of disability”), and his father. (Some of this may sound familiar to fans of O’Connell’s Netflix series, Special.) Here, O’Connell’s revelatory and charming humor adds dimension to a character who is unapologetic about his spiraling behavior despite claiming to know better. O’Connell leaves nothing on the table, and the result reads like a zippy, traffic-dodging trip up the 101 on a blinding afternoon. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary. (May)