“The Desperates” by Greg Kearney— Learning to Live (and Die)

the desperate

Kearney, Greg. “The Desperates”,  Cormorant Books September , 2013.

Learning to Live (and Die)

Amos Lassen

“The Desperates” opens in June, 1998. We meet Teresa who is suffering from terminal lung cancer and she is trying to decide how to die. Edmund is suffering from HIV but he has been rebounding by using anti-retrovirals and now he is facing the opposite of Teresa—he has to decide how to live. Joel, Teresa’s son has now moved from a small Canadian town, Kenora, to Toronto and he is moving toward adulthood by being sexually used by older men. Here we have our three themes—-cancer and chemotherapy, living with HIV and thoughts about suicide but these only take us to deeper issues like class-consciousness, life and death and family. Now these themes look pretty serious so I imagine you will be surprised to learn that this a comic novel. Author Kearney has the gift of using exaggeration to make crazy situations appear even crazier.

Joel, for example, quit his job as a phone-sex line because the client he was speaking to wanted to talk about testicular torment and it so upset him that he made a date with a wealthy guy named Edmund who becomes annoyed with Joel’s constant attention. Joel, luckily for Edmund, has to move because of his mother’s dying wish that he do so. It seems that Teresa feels guilty about Joel’s nerdiness and his ineptitude. She decided that it would be best that Joel come to her and in that way Teresa gets a kind of revenge over the mayor of the town’s wife whose son called Joel “a fatass bag of AIDS” when they were children. But that did not last long because Teresa found religion and then tries to have an exorcism for Joel (see the humor?).

While this was going on, Edmund breaks his seven years of sobriety with a vial that he found on his spice rack and that had once belonged to his now dead lover, Dean. Before he knows it, he is hooked on meth and meets Binnie, a good-looking hustler who is a masochist and loves to do thing concerning the anus (see the humor?).

Surely we all know that there are those who like their sex rough and there are those who use meth. And we know of mothers who like to avenge something in their past. We also meet Hugh here who is Joel’s father and has to balance taking care of his wife and dealing with his gay son.

For me, I think the book is about masculinities and how to be man. Granted this is a funny way of writing about it and I doubt you will ever read a novel quite like this—but go ahead—give it a try.