Thursday, January 06, 2011

Candy Everybody Wants, by Josh Kilmer Purcell

If there is a lesson in Candy Everybody Wants, it is to be careful what you wish for. 

The story centers in Jayson (the Y is very important, it shows flair), a gay teenager living in Wisconsin in the early 80s.  His mom is a "free spirit" artist, his brother has a developmental disability, his best friends are twins that live next door with their religious fundamentalist parents.  Jayson has one overarching goal-to be famous, just like his celebrity crush, Devin Williamson.  The summer before high school finds him directing his friends and starring in his own Dallas/Dynasty spin-off.  When his performance (in drag) is accidentally shown to the whole town, his mother sends him to live with father-an actor she hooked up with once after a performance, but who Jayson finds is clearly as queer as a three dollar bill.  He also runs a male escort service, but he takes in Jayson with equanimity.  Also staying with dear old dad-Jayson's favorite child actor, Devin Williamson.  Between Devin and his father, Jayson now has enough juice to get him noticed in Hollywood-but will it turn out to be everything he hoped?

Sadly, Candy Everybody Wants did not turn out to be everything I hoped.  After reading I Am Not Myself These Days, Purcell's memoir of his days in drag, I was expecting a slightly snarky, witty, and insightful novel about the dangers of seeking fame.   I think that what made his memoir successful was the raw honesty with which it was written, and the fact that you knew it was about a real person.  In Candy Everybody Wants, the authenticity was missing to a certain extent.  Plus, he really threw in every late 70s/early 80s character stereotype there was.  Flamboyant gay teen, drug-using promiscuous bisexual mother, former teen-idol on the skids, closeted gay theater actor, homophobic meathead football player, militant lesbian...few of the characters, including Jayson, felt completely developed. 

The story itself was entertaining, and I could see it making a great, quirky comedy movie.  But as a follow-up to his first book, this one left me a little flat.

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