Drew Pisarra’s collection of shorts, You’re Pretty Gay from Ireland’s Chaffinch Press highlights Pisarra’s deftness. The prose clips, and Pisarra’s authorial style is the real focus of the collection as the stories eschew character development for wit and panache. Pisarra’s characters are not seeking redemption or emotional growth, no, the characters of You’re Pretty Gay attempt to find love as they navigate hetero-normativity, as Pisarra’s prose whips along skewering and upending norms, both societal and literary.
Setting the stage, as it were, in the opening story, Pisarra’s collection begins aloft and never really touches the ground, zipping along and through the stories like a thread through a needle’s eye. These stories capture the humor and grand comedy of errors that is love and that is contemporary life. You’re Pretty Gay could have been a nostalgia-fest for the 90s and late 80s and even early 00s, but these stories aren’t interested so much in typical literary plots, rather these stories are vehicles that allow Pisarra’s voice to hum, sing and harmonize with itself as the author wends through love’s follies.
The collection opens with “Fickle” which addresses the reader using “you”, centering the reader on the speaker’s experience with love, which unfolds with madcap intensity. It’s not necessarily the plot that is madcap, but rather Pisarra’s voice, which fires along, this effect keeps the emotional intensity of You’re Pretty Gay at an arm’s length, but heightens the comedic aspects of love. Consider, how Pisarra turns away from what could have been a maudlin memory of love separated:
I moved to Seattle. Of course, Dick followed shortly thereafter. There was no separating Dick and me. It’s been me and Dick since the beginning and it’ll be Dick and me in the end. Actually Dick and I broke up recently, I’m sorry to say. Although I swear I bumped into him at a bar last week. He came up to me, drunk again, cigarette in hand and said, “Match?” And I said, “Exactly.”
These fifteen short stories highlight the ups and downs of contemporary life in relation of sex, love, and the struggle for personal identity, which in Pisarra’s capable hands is a series of misadventures. One can imagine the author smiling like a child while composing the stories, for Pisarra’s warmth and joy of writing comes through the pace and the wild invention. This also allows You’re Pretty Gay to handle serious intersections with wit and grace. In “A Total Knockout” the speaker encounters a hook up in a van:
His van was a little house, a little house on wheels, a little docked houseboat on wheels, and yet I couldn’t shake the sadness of it. I thought about the tiny house movement sweeping the country and the trailer park where my retired parents now lived and the Big Jim camper I used to play with as a kid but somehow this beat-up van parked downtown felt different. Renting a room in a communal house you can pretend you’re living above the poverty line but living in a van?
The assignation does not go as planned and the speaker ends up with a mild head injury rather than a good time and allows Pisarra to poke holes in contemporary culture without being too serious. For love stories are comedy, and Pisarra enjoys laughing off one of the most difficult and necessary emotions to navigate love and self-acceptance.
Stephen Scott Whitaker is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the winner of the 2021 Pink Poetry Prize from Great River Review.