by Suzette Mayr
Coach House Books, 2011
268 pp.; $20.95
How do we talk about the now-familiar tragic event of the bullied gay teenager’s suicide? Every few months, a new face is held up by the media as the latest object of outrage, pity, and compassion. Columnists write eulogies and politicians speak of the need for acceptance and healing. In the past year, Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project has collected thousands of YouTube videos of Queer survivors, elders, celebrities and questioning youth, assembling an archive of despair and resistance. In her novel Monoceros, Suzette Mayr refuses the triumphant arc, the tidy narrative of sacrifice and redemption, and instead wades into the story of a single gay teenager’s suicide and the people who stagger through the aftermath — people who don’t have answers, who don’t necessarily believe in healing, and who are to varying degrees pathetic, broken, regretful and, above all, contradictory.
Mayr uses frequent changes in perspective and tone to create a fractal narrative structure — the pieces do not form a whole and do not settle. The dead boy, Patrick Furey, begins the novel with a despairing wail and then vanishes, his absence filling with the voices of his mother, his closeted boyfriend Ginger, Ginger’s possessive and gloriously petty girlfriend, his closeted Catholic Calgary (ouch) high school counselor, and others in Patrick’s complex community. Through their stories we see how Patrick was killed by partial silences and, crucially, by the conservative values accepted and enacted by the Queer adults in his world. Mayr’s stroke of brilliance in Monoceros is to juxtapose a long-term closeted relationship between Patrick’s school principal Max and school counselor Walter with Patrick and Ginger’s closeted relationship. Patrick’s despair is created not only by homophobic parents and his insular Catholic world, but by the self-hatred of those best equipped to help him. Mayr does not pander to notions of Patrick’s lost Queer utopian future, but takes on the daily compromises and small lies of his days.
Monoceros is also a very funny book. The teenagers are gleefully skewered, without the saccharine tone of Glee. In particular, the Mean Girl character of Ginger’s girlfriend is masterfully done. Yes, she led the homophobic charge on Patrick, because she loved Ginger and was threatened by his love for Patrick. Mayr manages to make her a sympathetic character, showing the insecurities underneath her craving for sexual dominance. She’s complicit in Patrick’s death, but is equally a confused, melodramatic kid who went too far. Mayr brings in the campier, playful side of Queer through a drag queen named Crepe Suzette to shake up Max’s world, a storyline which is sweet and awkward but doesn’t shed enough light to counterbalance the darkness of Patrick’s death.
Queer literature is full of black gems that focus on the language that can make beauty outpace suffering, if only in posthumous tribute —Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy, Alan Barnett’s The Body And Its Dangers, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Mayr’s writing joins that slant, shadowed tradition. Think of Monoceros as an unsentimental response to It Gets Better, or as its chaotic twin—a story that has the courage to eschew optimism and capital H Hope for the jagged, uncompromising, and transformative. »From issue #60