A Slice of Voice in the Globe and Mail
Bill (Bachelor Brother) Richardson quite admires this book, and says so on the back cover with an understated eloquence that ought to charge even the most jaded bookish hearts with hope. I don't beg to differ, much.
Brian Dedora's coming-of-age story is a memory gallery, more a collection of scenes and sensations and pensées than the "novel" advertised on its cover. You can almost see the gilt frame around each chapter, setting off its contribution to the eccentric show.
The results bounce between poetic, pellucidly cinematic, heart-battering, gorgeously ghastly, spasmodically irrelevant.
Early on, you will watch a Catholic priest sate his desires with a young boy, our un-named protagonist. Billed by the jowly Monsignor as Christian discipline, the physical details are not shocking, only terribly sad; a human train wreck of moral hypocrisy.
After his session with Monsignor, the abused boy hides in the woods where he can secretly cry and throw up, his mind awhirl with pious nonsense. "The sisters said that if you'd been to Holy Communion and vomited you had to dig around in the puke to rescue the Holy Eucharist wafer of unleavened bread the Jews took with them when Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea and the commies make you step on the crucifix and if you don't because you love Jesus they shoot you in the head."
Later on the boy, now a teenager, relates the accidental drowning of a neighbour's child — another of the traumas and sorrows that progressively strip away his childhood illusions. Compensations include a summer fling with a lad from the cottage next door: "His eyes painfully soft as he moves in ... for the inevitable long-looked-forward-to kiss."
Some chapters unfold with conventional narrative clarity. Others are poems or prose poems packed with allusive wordplay. The ricochet of descriptive transparency and poetical opaqueness makes for bumpy reading, but overall there's a sense that we've been given privileged admittance to a secret world.
The setting shifts to big-city gay life. The time is pre-plague, when the only real risks were the virulence of the streets and the baggage of self-hatred. Dedora's gay 1970s Toronto is half nostalgic nightmare, half cringe-making delight.
Toronto's long-defunct St. Charles and Parkside taverns have never been more mercilessly captured — all of it true, though times have changed. (The seething, Pasolinian homoerotic circus of the Parkside is now a Burger King. For all we've gained, it's a palpable loss.) Our boy-man's life becomes defined by nights of cruising the Yonge Street bars and hustling closety Bay Street suits at 50 bucks a half-hour.
Dedora's slice from this lost demimonde is flawlessly animated. It's a time-warp back to a community bound together and torn apart by one intractable curse, the label "deviant." Canada's market for urban gay stories has for decades been largely stocked from U.S. gaylit, New York and San Francisco subbing for the fraught queer histories of our own cities. Dedora brings it home.
The book has some needless padding, including travel notes from Spain and Greece, and a four-page analysis of B.B. King song lyrics. Still, if I'm forced some day to trim shelf space, this will be a keeper.