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Wry, contemplative personal essays reflecting on travel, intimate connections, and the pursuit of a writing life.

In this debut collection, James (Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe, 2019) memorably revisits experiences from his past, whether random encounters or more significant life-changing events. In each case, he reveals impressive candor and depth of thought about his formative years and his development as a writer. The journey wasn’t always smooth, and the author is forthcoming about some of the many jobs he has had over the years, including answering phones at the San Francisco Ballet during Nutcracker season, a brief summer interlude at a gelato stand in Seattle, and an extended writing sabbatical (“writing aside, the primary gift of a residency is ample time half-free from the expectations of the world”) and stint at the Carson McCullers house in Columbus, Georgia. Frequent travel to both familiar and remote locations throughout the world allowed James to chronicle complicated and occasionally awkward interactions with foreign cultures. Throughout, he reflects on the nuanced challenges of personal interaction in any form, from bonding with job associates to investing in more enduring friendships, or from navigating the challenges of finding enduring love to casual hookups with strangers. “The pursuit of sex, which at times feels like it’s all masks, all theater, can demand so little real exposure,” writes James. “What petrified me was that I wanted more than sex from Karim: I longed to fall fully in love with him, which is much more frightening—love demands that you rest in place offstage, endure heroic passages of time together, time in which one must confront, continually, the tired, the ridiculous, the warty actor behind the role.” Cutting gay cultural clichés, the author skillfully reveals his complex inner life. Attuned to the broad expectations or struggles of being a contemporary gay male, he is also deft in his exploration of the personal and financial difficulties of anyone living in our current era.

A remarkably insightful and entertaining collection from a talented voice.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-5011-9964-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2020