“Art school was such a waste of time and money, in retrospect. From the first day it was clear who would eventually make a career out of it and who wouldn’t.” – ‘California Underwater’
Our Lady of Perpetual Realness is probably not a collection for people who are struggling to articulate the intricacies of their own poverty, their queerness and brown-ness and who need advice about doing so—it might be a book for those who are grappling with an added feeling of inescapable existentialism and pushing through in spite of, however. Out of plainly youthful language and unembellished descriptives, Cason Sharpe carves a still-life—or several lives, rather, each one with a protagonist whose landscape is deforested, but not desolate. Every story is that of a gay brown boy who could really be any gay brown boy in Montreal or Toronto, many of them working for minimum-wage, all of them in some way stifled by the silence in their lives, the sheer mundanity of their jobs and friendships and masks.
There is a restlessness under the surface here, a frantic energy that’s easy to miss if one takes these narratives at face value. For all its brevity, Sharpe’s prose has an unmistakable luster found not in the words themselves but the secret doors they allude to opening, at any moment sometimes-there and sometimes-not. The collection’s eponymous final story is set in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting. At one notable point, the drag-clad narrator ruminates on the violence of life for trans women and black men, for queer people in general:
Where do we go to dance fucked up all night long and not die? Where do we go to get laid and not die? Who is here in this room with us? Who is not here in this room with us? What are we going to wear?
Later, he ditches his club-hopping friends to walk down the boulevard alone. It’s a beautiful scene, but undeniably messy, and without clear resolution. I was often frustrated reading Sharpe’s stories, but never by their stilted conflicts—only ever the uncertainty and artifice in my own life. The narrators never say the inflammatory things they are thinking to the people that most need to hear them, but neither do I. And maybe the only thing worse than a doomed life is a plain one, sure, but who decides that? There’s no way to escape the world that was made for us, and this futility is undoubtedly the source of so much grief for some, but there are endless lessons to be learned about bruises in this book, the necessary shifts in perspective that turn the phantom pains of old violences or shame into sites for private, necessary healing.