A comical look at the world of Southern drag queen pageants.
Greenwell (Who the Hell is Rachel Wells?, 2013) opens his entertaining novel with its protagonist and narrator, Chester Davis, pleasantly sandwiched in bed between Zac Efron and Ryan Reynolds. Sadly for Chester, his fantasy sequence is the result of a concussion-induced hallucination. The author then takes us back approximately one year when the waiflike Chester escapes at the age of 21 from the trailer park where he lives with his abusive, homophobic grandmother outside of Birmingham, Alabama. (For most of the book, Chester goes by the name of his stage persona, Daphne DeLight, and feminine pronouns are used.) To Greenwell’s credit, there is a lot of action packed into that year as an eclectic group of supporters at Club Diva helps Daphne hone her craft and pursue her ambitious goal of winning the title of Miss Gay Drag Queen Alabama. As boyfriends Sam and Mike, the first two characters to offer Daphne a helping hand, discuss her developmental issues and extreme social awkwardness, Sam objects to Mike’s use of the term “retarded.” Mike responds: “Okay…challenged, slow, low IQ, autistic, whatever the term. She can barely even read, for God’s sakes.” Greenwell constructs Daphne as the proverbial babe in the woods who requires frequent explanations. This may illuminate readers unfamiliar with certain subcultures; however, this technique slows down the narrative as Daphne interprets language literally, and readers wait for yet another explanation from a frazzled mentor. For instance, at one point, Sam compares Daphne to a young Elizabeth Taylor, then feels compelled to add: “Well, thinner, blonder, and younger…you do have blue eyes. Not violet, but blue. Close enough.” The use of this transparent device seems like a convoluted, awkward way to convey basic information like the protagonist’s eye color. Although the book contains a few stereotypes, racial and otherwise, it reaches a satisfying conclusion when Greenwell reveals the cause of Daphne’s concussion as well as the root of her social and academic difficulties.
Mostly harmless fun with a large cast of zany characters and many chaotic situations.