Egan, Laury A. “Fabulous!: An Opera Buffa”, Tiny Fox Press, 2018.
Paying the Rent
Sometimes when life is getting you down, you need to do something to raise your spirits. (I doubt that sentence needs any further explanation these days). The way I do this is to look for a book that will pick me up and take me away to a place I would ordinarily not go. It just so happened that I received an invitation to review a book by an author I did not know and it did the trick. Just think about the intersection between the mob, opera and drag and you will see what kind of fun can be had.
Gilbert Eugene Rose is a talented opera singer who moonlights as a drag queen and diva divine, Kiri De Uwana. Sometimes it is what we have to do to pay the rent. But let’s face it, there are not too many drag dives that make it to the big time and Gil really wants to make it on the New York opera scene. He gets two gigs (surely there is a more refined word in opera-talk), one as a soprano and one as a tenor in separate productions and he also gets to chance to sing Handel when he is hired by a very dangerous female gangster who just happens to be in the midst of war with the producer of one of the other two operas. The chances of any of this ending happily are very slim.
As might be expected in the world of drag, this is a campy story that is way over the top and Gil only has his drag apparel, his wigs and his wits for support in a very trying time. Like many operas, we have an epic cast of characters; unlike many operas, the characters seem to be missing something and as the story moves forward, the reader is in for great fun. I was so reminded of when as an undergrad, I took a part as an extra in a New Orleans Opera House production of “La Boheme” and as I attended rehearsals, I came to understand that sanity in the opera world is a rare trait…. but the insanity is fun. I felt a smile on my face the entire time I read “Fabulous”.
Now I certainly do not want to ruin a read by writing spoilers so I am going to very carefully attempt to skirt the plot as much as possible (and no, the use of the word “skirt” here has nothing to do with drag). We immediately see the conflict that Gil faces when he is so anxious to make a name for himself that he takes on more than he can handle (or Handel). Taking two leading roles at two different opera houses was already too much but he had to take one more job to privately perform privately. And we are off on a crazy journey through three different aspects of New York City life— the drag, mob and opera scenes. What I find so wonderful about this book is that it does not ridicule or make fun of drag but rather captures the scene believably and beautifully. Sometimes we have to be reminded that we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.
I have to comment on Laury Egan’s character development of Gil. She has developed not only a loving main character but his alter egos as well and we can say the same for all of the other characters. The other characters run the gamut from “drag queens, psychics, spirit guides, mobsters to lesbian best friends, ex-lovers, hitmen/women, crazy love interests, absent parents, multiple identities and kidnappers. If you thought that “The Ten Commandments” had a big cast, you will be surprised at how many characters we have here and each is well developed. As if crazy characters are not enough, we also find them in crazy situations. Forget the world of reality and come away with Laury Egan to a world you have never visited before.
I came across a review (something I rarely do is read other reviews before writing my own) that uses the word “audacious” to describe “Fabulous” and I believe that hits it on the head. In fact, I felt the story to be so audacious that I read it in one sitting. I do think that I should mention that the humor is well meant and sophisticated so you will be laughing more internally than aloud— but you will be laughing.
I have only on a few occasions had trouble reviewing a book without giving something away especially because there are situations that I am dying to share but holding back. That is about the strongest recommendation that I can give and hopefully you will agree with me after reading “Fabulous”.