Book Review: Handsome: Stories of an Awkward Boy Girl Human by Holly Lorka

Lorka, Holly. Handsome: Stories of an Awkward Boy Girl Human. She Writes Press. 2020. $16.95. 192p. PB. 9781631527838.

Handsome: Stories of an Awkward Boy Girl Human is a memoir for both lovers of autobiographies and those who loathe them. Lorka not-so-delicately drags the reader through a cacophony of snapshot memories— memories that embody what it’s like to not-so-delicately fit into the status quo. With a frankness that your conservative grandparents would classify as brazen, Lorka uses choice experiences from the past fifty years of her life to talk about sex, sexuality, and gender identity. Chronologically wobbly, this book puts the traditional memoir format to bed, slamming the door shut on the way out. 

Lorka’s voice is surprisingly plain for a retired stand-up comedian turned wedding officiant. Halfway through the second page, it’s not difficult to sense her materializing beside you, accompanied by the crack-and-hiss of a just-opened beer can. Some of the memories recounted in Handsome falter as they approach that tantalizing ah-ha! moment tied to the self-reflection that’s characteristic of memoirs. Yet, you turn the page. Lorka speaks. You both take a sip. 

Even as I devoured this book with a voracity I hadn’t felt in some time, I wanted to dislike it. Feeling betrayed by the lack of the neat, Enlightenment-level aura of memoirs I’ve encountered, I found myself stumped by this collection of memories that were just that: recollections (often without clear purpose). Not every piece played out this way. An occasional drop of intuitiveness came to the surface, daring me to turn each page to find a grain of insight in that otherwise dumbfoundingly empty silo.

I grasped at any reason to justify my unjustifiable distaste: relying on taboos about sex is the only thing making this intersting, profanity is not the heavy-lifter she wants it to be here, what year are we even in now? Come on, Lorka.

And then I finished it. Breathless. 

This memoir is not neat, and perhaps that’s the point. Lorka’s book is unapologetic and brash, two things that queer stories have every right to be. The crests and peaks of this book are redeemed by unfabricated authenticity and the power inherent in choosing vulnerability. For readers in search of stories that not only amplify queer experiences but also challenge expectations of form and truth and self— this collection of awkward boy girl human experiences is for you.

By Anastasia Wright 




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