Here at BOA, we're celebrating Pride Month by highlighting the work of our LGBTQ+ authors! We asked each of our wonderful summer interns to pick a title or two and write about them! To start off the series, BOA intern Apollo Chastain reviews Adam McOmber's My House Gathers Desire, Justin Jannise's How to be Better by Being Worse, and Joe Baumann's forthcoming story collection, Where Can I Take You When There's Nowhere To Go.
Dripping with desire and unforgiven sins, Adam McOmber’s My House Gathers Desires combines the sensuality and blood of creature features with baroque stylings of the 19th century in rich, lyrical prose. In these short stories, specters stalk through European chalets and mid-Atlantic mansions – monsters, yes, but also reflections of love made sour by dwelling in unfulfilled potential, and desire turned in on itself until it curdles. In McOmber’s prose, the sense of longing and waiting until it becomes its own – sometimes monstrous, sometimes beautiful – entity is recognized as fundamentally queer. The horror in this book doesn’t victimize or pathologize queerness, rather it serves as a visceral catharsis for lives lived despite every attempt to make us believe we’re monsters.
Justin Jannise steers the clear, casual poems of How to be Better by Being Worse with precision and grace through breakups, hookups, and self-confrontations. Combining whimsy with flippant wit, these poems read like Alice in Wonderland… if it were infinitely more queer and self-deprecating. Jannise pares away at the tangled emotions swarming the world and the self with careful observation, until nothing but riveting syntax and clean images remain. The seeming effortlessness with which the poems jump from image to image is made more impressive by the ground they cover – Jannise makes traversing both the fraught and the funny, from bad first dates at cat cafes to the lumbering artifice of sports mascots, seem easy. Sonically elegant without ever being pretentious, the short, Germanic syllables of Jannise’s short lines bounce and drive their way towards complex conclusions authentic to a well-lived, queer early adulthood.
Poem Excerpt: "What I'm Into"
Adam's apples, beards, brains.
A certain type of man you see on trains
between Connecticut and New York:
solid muscle, a starched white shirt.
Dilfs. Doctors. Dimples. Every man I've seen
offer his arm to someone crossing the street.
Fags---those who've reclaimed the word
with piercings, tattoos, unruly curls
sprouting from their heads, pits, chests, thighs.
Ghosts of long dead poets, their sad eyes
of young Robert (Frost, Hayden, Lowell)
appearing, now, beneath the charcoal
brow of the barista. Men who make coffee, hummus, bread.
The weight of a body on the edge of the bed.
Megawatt smiles, goldspinning hips.
Intellectuals, lifeguards, motorcyclists with ripped
jeans, flabby abs, a bone to pick with the capitalist
regime. No mansplainers. No racists.
Nobody already romantically attached.
Anyone reading who thinks there's a chance.
Elucidated by piercingly clean and clear syntax, the stories of Where Can I Take You When There’s Nowhere To Go meander in otherworlds perilously similar to our own. Second hearts bloom beneath the bodies of lovers, roots sprout from heads when a person is afflicted by loss, and people grappling with the wish to vanish evaporate the moment they settle on departure. Desires and emotions studiously kept beneath the surface are mapped on the bodies of Joe Baumann’s protagonists as they mutate, grow, and disappear. The worlds of this book are miraculous and strange, thrumming with the doubt, angst, and triumph of teenage desire and the uncertain heroism of adults trying to map their way through a world where parents are beginning to die, relationships are beginning to fossilize, and we are called upon to confront what it is we really want, and what we’ll never be able to get. Quietly literary, these stories are populated by longing and uncertainty, but also the surety of a quiet love; they are a multifaceted and intricate portrait of queer youth at the cusp of adulthood and queer adults barely out of their youth.
Apollo Chastain (ze/hir) is the recipient of the 2021 Academy of American Poets College Prize for hir university and a three-time winner in the National YoungArts competition. Hir work appears or is forthcoming in journals including Poets.org, a PEN America fellowship publication, Diode Poetry Journal, and The Arkansas International. Visit hir at apollopoet.wordpress.com, or on Instagram @apollo.chastain