An opera-singing drag performer yearns for stardom and gets more than he bargained for in Egan’s (The Outcast Oracle, 2013) novel.
It’s 2009 and Gilbert Eugene Rose, a lanky opera enthusiast, moonlights as drag performer “Kiri De Uwana.” He left an unhappy life in New Jersey for Manhattan 11 years ago, armed with a makeup case, an armful of wigs and costumes, and a dream of operatic stardom. Gilbert, in his mid-30s, is broke and desperate for work. But after psychic Madame Clara foretells future fame for him, he aces an audition for a production of Cosi fan tutte, finds a new love interest named Douglas Pierce, then accepts a tenor role in Rigoletto. Egan’s pacing is expertly brisk as she relates Gilbert’s adventures, bringing in captivating supporting characters, such as Gilbert’s best friend, Gal Friday; his ex-boyfriend William Van Allan (who also has the hots for Douglas); and evil, “pernicious gangsterette” La Donna Gabrielli. As Kiri, Gilbert steals many scenes, showcasing an addictive combination of wicked wit, unfettered confidence, and luxurious femininity. Things do get complicated and very messy for Gilbert, though, with feathers ruffled and feelings hurt along the way. Still, he revels in the busiest, most lucrative time in his career, even as La Donna and her beady-eyed henchman, Tino, come after him, forcing him to don disguises and run for cover. Dynamic, colorful characters add flair to a story full of snappy dialogue and rapid-fire action. The book’s tone is primarily one of effervescent joy, but Egan also manages to incorporate serious themes of personal identity, as when Gilbert reflects that “I dressed and put on the wig and makeup, preferring to be anyone other than Gilbert Eugene Rose, even though I wasn’t completely sure who he was.”
A campy, hilarious, fast-paced indulgence that’s addictively entertaining.