Barrett, Redfern Jon. The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of Straights. Lethe Press. 2015. $18. 193p. PB. 9781590213155.
When a local pub burns down, people from all over Swansea, Wales, make the trek to watch it crumble into ashes. Among them are Caroline, her boyfriend Dom, and Dom’s new roommate Richard. Surrounded by poverty, alcoholics, street preachers, drag queens, and strong-willed friends, their lives start to shift as Dom and Richard realize that they love one another. However, Dom also loves Caroline, opening the trio up to a queer polyamorous relationship that none of them are sure is even possible. The battle over whether their relationship can last its awkward first days lies at the heart of Barrett’s The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of Straights.
Redfern Jon Barrett’s second novel is a fantastic ride through the lives of these Swansea residents. The narrative shifts points of view rapidly, occasionally jumping through brief snatches of time to show different perspectives of the same scene (reminiscent of a Rashomon where no one has died). Each of the characters maintains a distinct voice, perspective, and thought pattern throughout the story, making it obvious whose section the reader is in even without the headings.
Although the story obviously focuses on the polyamorous trio, the narrative voice is shared with Rutti, Richard’s gay ex-roommate. Rutti provides comic relief that shrouds a tragedy deeper in his life of someone tired of his dead-end job and the dead-end local gay scene. He ends up adopting a quasi-homeless Baptist missionary and learning to love himself more fully from a drag queen named Hopes. The additional supporting cast of Caroline’s overbearing roommates, Rutti’s domineering club friends, the Women’s Group that Rutti loves to needle, and many more flesh out this drama, making it an entertaining and engaging read.
Some sections spring decades into an imagined future where polyamory is much more accepted, but not all of these flashforwards take place the same distance in the future, leading to minor moments of confusion when reading. Granted, I may not have been reading closely enough, but it did throw me for a minute.
The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of Straights is recommended to any library that collects popular fiction. Although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
-John Mack Freeman