You’re Pretty Gay is a collection of previously published short stories by Drew Pisarra, each focusing around queer identity, often centered around childhood and the experience of not belonging. While each is a stand-alone story, it can be read as a connected narrative of one man’s life as he grows up, which is what makes the collection so powerful and well-done.
The stories are varied, from scenes within a Catholic school program to a nightmare about being trapped in Hell, but they all have the same voice and drive binding them together. Pisarra has a stream-of-consciousness style, which he sets in place with the first story “Fickle”, and it gives a more organic feel to his narratives. Moreover, he makes it easy to connect with the characters of each story. You can feel their nervousness and frustration, as they seem to trip over themselves at times with how fast their thoughts are flowing.
This also gives the appearance of an unreliable narrator. Take “Fickle” again, where the character is telling you about their first love, but keeps changing the name of the love interest in every sentence. It leaves you unsure, and doubling back to check what you’ve just read, and wondering where the story is what you thought at all.
Throughout the entire collection, one connected theme is growing up during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, and the fear of whether or not you would be the next casualty to an unforgiving virus. The story “Arctic Chill” really puts that into perspective, with the narrator reliving each moment of major illness they’ve experienced throughout their life, as well as the constant worry of whether they would test positive. It really brings home the fear, continually circling around questions rather than answers. Is it worse to get tested and know for sure? Or to run the risk of not knowing and catching it? And what if you’re one of the lucky ones, when everyone around you is dying? How do you feel then?
One of the standout stories of the collection is “The Hat from Hell”, where the character is trapped in hell, or at least believing themselves to be, and is determined to leave with a memento of the event to prove it. It’s one of my favorites, because it has an incredibly poignant line: “You don’t recognize hell by the landscape or the visuals or the buildings or the statues or the monuments. You recognize hell by the actions that you’re forced to take.” (p.25)
This book is powerful and deeply touching, hitting on all the feelings of nonconformity and alienation one feels when they realize that they aren’t straight, something that most LGBT can relate to. It is dark, and not afraid to hit on the uncomfortable moments, so it is a more adult read with mentions of violence and sex, but it feels like it should be required reading for any college-bound student for it’s look at history, sexuality, and gender.
Kai Van Ginkel is a Midwesterner who is often seen with a book in hand. A Graduate of College of St. Mary’s with a degree in Writing and Literature, they are an editor with a passion for fairy-tales and the subversion of old stories. They are an Anthology Editor for Lupercalia Press, and can also be found reading and reviewing books at Sleeping Dragon Reviews, or on twitter @KaiVanGinkel
Art by Sako Antonyan, website here