Exploring the ballroom scene of Harlem between the years of the late-1970s and early 1990s, The House of Impossible Beauties is ready to serve. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Paris is Burning, Legendary and just drag culture, in general, will be familiar with the infamous House of Xtravaganza. But this novel provides a fictional account of their lives – navigating poverty, abandonment, racism and homophobia during the Aids crisis.
Joseph Cassara’s debut novel tells the fictionalised accounts of the real-life House of Xtravaganza and does so simply. As the characters’ stories intertwine and diverge, the plot flows seamlessly and can be followed with ease.
The House of Impossible Beauties follows four members of the house of Xtravaganza – Angel, Venus, Juanito and Daniel: each offering a tonal shift and a different perspective. Those familiar with the lives of Venus & Angie Xtravaganza know of the indescribable tragedies they faced in their lifetime and this novel handles the topic with grace and sensitivity.
One of the things I loved the most about The House of Impossible Beauties is how tragedy and humour go hand and hand with neither eclipsing the other. Incredibly tragic, heartwarming and serving all kinds of sass with no emotion overshadowing the other. Cassara uses a perfect blend of gallows humour (which as a Scottish person, I LOVE) and moments of pure joy.
This review is more of a gush of unadulterated admiration and love. I can’t stress enough how much I adored this book. I think Joseph Cassara handles this topic with the utmost respect and sensitivity. Showcasing the trials and tribulations of love & family and not to mention the relentlessness of the human spirit.
With The House of Impossible Beauties, Cassara has managed to encapsulate the zeitgeist of not only an era but of a subculture.
“I will tell her to look at my face – no lines, no wrinkles, no bags. She can stare at my youth and suffer.” Now, this is the level of sass I aspire to live by.
Until next time,
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