Sketchtasy By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, 268 pgs.

Aug 05, 2019

In homage to David Wojnarowicz, Sycamore ripped my heart out and put it back together again (this book is dedicated, in part, to Wojnarowicz, and features his work as a cornerstone of queer grief and desire, and emulates him quite well). Sketchtasy is a whirlwind of tulle and coke and fucking. Sketchtasy is not light reading. Sketchtasy, may not, in fact, be the book for you. It does not cut corners, and does not hesitate to throw sucker punches or take a romp through the gutter. It’s a filthy story about queer struggle and resilience rife with run-ons—it does not stop to take a breath.

Sycamore is best known for her work editing collections such as Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots, questioning toxic masculinity and respectability within the queer community, and though this is fiction, it follows similar lines of questioning. What kind of queers are “respectable?” What kind of queers will always be on the margins? This question is answered in Alexa’s days and nights spent turning tricks in altered wedding gowns, stealing sleeping bags to give to the homeless, covering the walls in art about healing.

Major, major trigger warnings for this book regarding addiction, incest, and rape, but major props for dealing with them without turning it into either trauma porn or think-positive-thoughts bullshit, which none of us, at this point, need. There’s plenty of that in this world. Alexa suffers deeply; the people around her suffer deeply. They cope with drugs and booze, they fall on and off the wagon but they also love, and feel joy, and sometimes that joy is all your friends doing ecstasy in your sugar daddy’s jacuzzi, and sometimes that joy is the perfect song or perfect shade of lipstick for the moment. Much of this story is about seeking glamour, but not the runway, not riches, not fucking Ru Paul. Glamour, here, is celebrating survival in a world that wants you dead, glitter on your nails, twirling together on the dance floor.

As if there’s not enough going on, this is also an AIDS novel, starting with the disillusionment of late-’90s AIDS activism, recognizing the collective grief that’s never really gone away, not even now, and coming back around to the stories that were told, particularly, again, in Wojnarowicz. This is the kind of dauntless fiction we need. I’m tired of queer history being glossed over and made picture-perfect, an endless celebration. It wasn’t, and isn’t. The first Pride was a riot. We still need to throw bricks through the windows of cop cars, and we still need our stories and struggles told for what they were and are. Sycamore, I hope, is only part of the beginning of this. –jimmy cooper (Arsenal Pulp Press,