Winnipeg Review wishes Monoceros was on all school curricula

By Elizabeth Bricknell
Winnipeg Review
April 28 2011

It is tempting to call Suzette Mayr's fourth novel the Big Gay Book as it examines the psyches of closeted homosexual teenaged boys, passing heterosexuals, and the "underworld" of drag queens, but Mayr is a clever, compassionate and entertaining writer who flawlessly seams it together with the precision of sewing a ball gown. And there are a lot of ball gowns being sewn in Monoceros.

Patrick Furey, a grade 12 student hopelessly in love with a boy named Ginger, who is pretending to be straight and has a serious girlfriend, kills himself in the first chapter. Attention is then removed from Patrick in order to introduce characters who have only an oblique connection with him. The school, St. Aloysius, has a Catholic code of ethics, and although Patrick seeks help from Walter, the effete guidance counsellor, thinking he will understand, is brushed off for fear of losing his job. The counsellor lives secretly with the male principal, whose first instinct is fear of litigation and relief that Patrick did not top himself on school property. Walter's guilt is immense and he begins cruising bars again:

He wants to go home, so he hails a cab to the bar called Home, and he orders another beer while he stands in line at the bar with the trannies and the dykes and the bears and the nellies and the circuit boys and the twinks and the leathermen and the drag kings and the drag queens and the drag hags and the fag hags, then he dances by himself ... like he's nineteen again.

Patrick's own homeroom teacher doesn't remember him; although, like most of the other characters, she feels guilty for not having done anything, she is more concerned with her failing marriage and menopause: her underwire bra is "stabbing a major artery"; she needs a "salad bowl-sized glass of wine." There are many hangovers in this book and much "chasing teenaged sociopaths".

Faraday, a virginal girl obsessed with unicorns, suffers the most; working at Tim Hortons, she served Patrick an iced capp every Saturday and torments herself with all the small talk she could have initiated. She seeks solace in the arms of her drag queen uncle, himself the son of a drag queen. Of all of them, the best name has to be "Vaseline Dion":

Faraday wonders how much longer before the dysfunctional family venom completely formaldehydes her brain. How much longer she has to wait before her unicorns come to save them, why they couldn't have come earlier and saved Patrick Furey too.

Monoceros is a unique twist on sex and power. Faraday, another lonely creature, is trying very hard to stifle her sex drive because unicorns will only choose virgin companions. As Northrop Frye said, "Female chastity in all pastoral romance down to Milton's Comus is an attribute of the higher order of nature." She dreams that they will come in droves, destroying her school and impaling the evil on their 'alicorns'.

If anyone is to blame, it is Ginger's girlfriend, who, although not knowing that they regularly screw on another dead teenager's cemetery plot, knew Patrick's daily routine; spraypainted his locker, said she'd rip off his dick, uttered death threats. After his death, she muses, "Are there maggots nesting in Patrick Furey's eye sockets?" and rationalizes her actions with, "She had acted cruelly, selfishly, but she was not a murderer. She was just in love."

What surprised me was how easy the novel is to read despite forfeiting a great deal of grammar and punctuation. There is no Joycean confusion but a smooth ride, with a few pages dedicated alternately to the main characters, clearly specified, with few interactions between them. Ms. Mayr's characterizations are second to none and she has a wonderful wit ("The cat licking her anus right next to his face, her leg sticking into the air like she's offering it for supper"; "Another nickel masquerading as a quarter") It should be on all school curriculums but for the inevitable parental objections.

– Elizabeth Bricknell

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