Greenwell, J.R. “In a Whirl of Delusion”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2018.
Becoming the Queen
Chester Davis narrates J.R. Greenwell’s comical take on Southern drag queen pageants. Chester finds himself in bed with Zac Efron and Ryan Reynolds. However, he is really hallucinating as the result of a concussion. Such is the stuff of dreams and wishes.
Next we go back a year in time to find twenty-one year old Chester escaping from the Morning Glory Trailer Park where he was living with his abusive, homophobic grandmother outside of Birmingham, Alabama. It was there that Chester became Daphne DeLight, the name her prefers being known by. Now we already have a drag queen and a trailer park and there should give you ideas where this book is going and it is certainly not the Vatican or the White House.
Daphne has her heart set on winning the title of Miss Gay Drag Queen Alabama and she has strong supporters at Club Diva. They help Daphne hone her craft and pursue her dream to be queen. Sam and Mike, a gay couple are the first two characters to offer Daphne a helping hand and we learn from overhearing them that Daphne has developmental issues and is extremely socially awkward. Sam doesn’t really care for the term retarded and prefers to think of Daphne as “challenged, slow, low IQ, autistic, whatever the term. She can barely even read, for God’s sakes.” Writer J.R. Greenwell gives us a Daphne who is a babe in the woods who needs almost everything explained to her (Bless her heart). Daphne interprets language literally and I suspect that you non-Southerners might be at a disadvantage here and might just have to wait for a translation from one of Daphne’s mentors (Bless their hearts).
Sam compares Daphne to a young Elizabeth Taylor but then feels compelled to add: “Well, thinner, blonder, and younger…you do have blue eyes. Not violet, but blue. Close enough.” (Take that for what its worth but remember that Liz Taylor did have some successful roles as a Southern woman). What is fun about drag queens is playing with stereotypes and Greenwell does that just great here (Although Daphne is her own stereotype, Bless her heart). By the end of the book, Greenwell reveals the cause of Daphne’s concussion as well as what has caused her social and academic difficulties.
Now you should know that a book about a drag queen has to be campy and this one certainly has its share of camp and in good, clean fun. I am sure that it is Daphne’s/Chester’s naiveté that opens the door for camp that is experienced on the road to the throne.
I actually felt that I was involved in helping Daphne win the crown and let me tell you, the Alabama drag world is a rough place to be. The would be ladies (Bless their hearts) show no compassion for competition even when it is as slow as Daphne.
This is no drag “Gone With the Wind” and I am not sure it is even literature. I am sure, however, that it is a fun read and was perfect for me to read today when everything is rainy and overcast in Boston. Besides there is some kind of butch race or marathon going on outside in the rain.