PRAISE FOR THE FIREBRAT
"Original and unforgettable." - EDMUND WHITE
"I love this book. Abjection has never been so gorgeous." - MATTHEW STADLER
Michael Carroll reviews The Firebrat (2003)
Judging from Attagirl’s first novel outing, The Firebrat, high-quality literature is still being produced. First-time novelist David McConnell has given us a rish and artful story, a funny, scalp-raising, very ironic and wry account of a young man’s efforts to bridge the disparate halves of his life amid so much dying—while giving us a moving and convincing love story that doesn’t resort to the romantic conceits of, say, the “Fire Island Problem Novel” (meet a boy on a bad hair day, get embarrassed, attend some fabulous summer parties where you meet him again, this time looking oh so hot, go swimming with him arm and arm off the Pines: The End).
I mention what The Firebrat isn’t since finding words to describe David McConnell as a narrator and breathtaking stylist is a tall order. A universal system of irony is at cruel and witty work here. Elliot has come to New York from the Midwest to become a writer, but one of those urbane creatures of a high-cultural Old World that has been swept away by AIDS and is best exemplified by Elliot’s older idol, Ambrose. Ambrose, himself infected but surviving with no apparent signs of creative abatement, encourages him as an old-fashioned mentor would. A shut-in for a variety of neurotic reasons (though he’s perfectly healthy), Elliot hunkers down in his apartment reading books and tweaking a single short story based on his imaginings of a cute boy he knows vaguely from the gym. He wants to do something meaningful, make his life and his words resound. But when he shows the story to his muse, who he hopes will be flattered and fall in love with him, he’s scorned by the kid for using his real name and invading his privacy. Even worse, he’s again been misunderstood (and again, to amusing effect).
Mostly he’s hamstrung by his ex, Charlie, whose slow decline into wasting and eventual blindness becomes his hair shirt. Both men are prickly customers, parrying and feinting together in hilariously articulate struggles to come to terms with their breakup years before. McConnell has a deft, shining, multitasking prose, and in any one of his extended passages buried like gems inside another of his immaculately delineated scenes, his writing telegraphs emotion, detail, mood and character most authors require pages to get at:
Implicit in every moment detailed in this lovely, controlled, intelligent, sexy, dark, coarse, fine, linguistically variegated and often touching novel are the twin-tied epiphanies of love and outrage. The traditionally elegiac gay novel has been tempered in McConnell’s hands with brave depictions of base self-interest and Manhattan slapstick, which are mellowed and made poignant by a sensibility so modern and ambivalent, so truthful, that as he adds each bitter drop of irony into a solution of crystal clear empathy, the result is a tasty, if not sweet, summer refreshment. Think of it as one of those licoricey, grown-up Mediterranean aperitifs—to be savored while others are turning the pages of their gay-volleyball-and-Ecstasy epics on the beach.