FRUIT by Brian Francis (ECW), 278 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Francis launches Fruit Wednesday (May 19) at the NOW Lounge, with a panel on Growing Up Gay, with R.M. Vaughn, Jazz Khan and Zoe Whittall. Ten per cent of book sales go to Supporting Our Youth. See Readings
There are coming out stories and growing-up-gay stories, but with Fruit, NOW staffer Brian Francis has written something more nuanced. It's like a growing-up-on-the-outside-but-not-really-sure-where-the-outside-is kind of story. All Peter Paddington knows is that his bedtime movies - hilarious gender-bent fantasies - are what he needs to get to sleep.
Plus, his nipples have swollen to such proportions that he has to tape them down. Even worse, they talk to him, even egg him on to really queer heights.
Peter had it bad enough before his nipples rebelled. He is fat, the object of constant junior high-style ridicule, his menopausal mother is not kind, and his two older sisters are convinced he's a loser.
But Peter has a plan. He'll lose a ton of weight and find a boyfriend (a friend friend, not a sex friend, of course) before the next fall rolls around.
The narrative has undercurrents that another writer might have made into something maudlin or overwrought. We get guilt, secrets, longings and alienation.
But in Francis's hands the story is pointed - painful, yes - but laugh-out-loud funny at the same time.
He evokes 80s life in Whitebread, Ontario (Sarnia in this case), with crystalline clarity,
And he has a great character in Peter's next door neighbour Daniela, a foul-mouthed, angry teenager who's riding the hormonal roller coaster and attempting to educate Peter in all things Catholic.
Fruit is one of those rare books that's easy to connect to no matter your age. If you're a young adult trying to figure out how to be different and still survive school, this book will resonate.
But anyone who has even a remote memory of junior high cruelties will connect to it as well.