In the novel The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers, author Joe Babcock takes the reader through the late teen years of Erick Taylor as he’s coming of age, and coming out of the closet.
Erick struggles to find acceptance in all aspects of his life as he is discovering who he really is. Still grieving over the loss of his younger brother years before, Erick has ever since felt alone and rejected by his family, his peers, and society. Then he meets Chloe, a flamboyant gay drag queen who changes his entire attitude towards his life.
The novel takes place in the 90’s and I found myself relating to the styles of the time, the rock and roll, drugs and sex atmosphere of the book. It was a time when I myself was coming of age. The struggles with identity are difficult and very parallel, whether coming of age straight or gay.
Erick aches to be loved and accepted, but his parents, too lost in their own grief over the loss of their younger son, adopt a “replacement” for him, and overlook the needs of the oldest. Erick distances more and more from them, and eventually, just outright leaves to move in with his new best friend Chloe.
Chloe represents for Erick, freedom and everything he longs to be: independent, openly gay, uninhibited and popular. Plus Chloe becomes a sort of idol to Erick, who decides his life’s dream is to be a drag queen: Miss Geneva Flowers. Through battles with gender crises, drug addiction, and finding love, the novel takes a deep look into the psyche of Erick. At 16/17 he is forced by circumstance and his own choices, he is forced to grow up very quickly. It isn’t until the end of the novel and when he loses that which he professes to love the most, Chloe that he finds out that he can indeed love himself as well and be free to be himself. With that and opening up in honesty to his family, he finds a sort of peace and some acceptance there where he least expected it.
This novel had me from page one. The dialog is so colourful that I could hear the voices in my head as I read. Chloe’s character reminding me of a friend of my own, came to life very vividly on the page. Erick, an angsty teen, is a character that anyone who has had any sort of identity struggle can relate to, not just Gays. I found myself unable to put the book down.
The author does a fantastic job of bringing the truth of gay lifestyle out in this novel. One of the critics of the book is quoted as saying “Joe Babcock effortlessly captures a voice rarely heard.”—JT LeRoy. This is a true statement. There comes an understanding in that being Gay isn’t so cut and dry as the media, as Christian critics and psychologists like to make it. It wipes the myth that being Gay is a choice, pointing out that so many gay people actually pray to God to change them, and have a very hard time accepting the very fact they are gay. This book eliminates predisposed conceptions of what being Gay is. There is no set stereotype to being gay, and everyone, gay or straight, is individually a person of their own, each deserving of respect, love and acceptance.
The only thing that I didn’t care for about this novel was how the end wrapped up a bit too neatly and too quickly. It goes along and then suddenly everything happens at once, and before you know it, the end is there and all wrapped up nice and neatly, with a neat happy ending. To me that is the most unrealistic part of it. For many, there wouldn’t have been such a happy ending, and it almost felt like the author came to a point where he decided it was time to wrap up the novel, and did so in a bit of a hurry.
Overall I recommend this book especially if you are open-minded, accepting and open-hearted. If you are homophobic or anti-gay, do not even bother, because you just won’t get it.
I will be looking to read more from Joe Babcock, who originally self published The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers, and won the Best Self-Published Novel award in 2002.