Hall, James Allen. “I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well”, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2017.
Queer in Florida in the 80s
When James Allen Hall’s parents lost their once-thriving family business in the pre-crash 2000s, they moved into a two-bedroom student apartment that James had previously shared previously with just his brother. His mother routinely attempts or threatens suicide, his father is depressed. Hall lives alongside, and through his family’s meth addiction, mental illnesses, and incarcerations, and weighs “his own penchants for less than happy, equal sex with an agility, depth, and lightness that is blissfully inconclusive.”
This is a collection of harrowing essays that are not only powerful but that also reveal the author’s sensitivity to find beauty and value in places where most of us do not look. He shows his vulnerability in language that is rarely spoken and we see him as a
witness, a seeker, a survivor and someone who’s earned the right to judge but who withholds doing so because he believes that we are all together and help by restraints that we see as compassion.
Hall journeyed through a youth that was violent and homophobic yet he managed to both exist and persist., manages to exist and persist. His writing expresses the pains that we endured and he persevered because he dared to accept himself as flawed. His writing is honest and compelling and for those of us who have ever had a broken heart will understand what he has to say. When all of his essays are taken together we see that we have his memoir written in the language of poetry. At times he disturbs us with what he writes but there is also humor here and he ranges from being serious to using camp to express how he feels. He discusses suicide frankly and openly and we love that he is honest about that. He knows the difficulties of being responsible and he knows that guilt can set boundaries. Through all of this we watch him take form as a gay male. He rises above the pain of his family and takes his own emotional risks. The risk he did not have to take is this absolutely gorgeous book.