Title: Black Sheep Boy: A Novel in Stories
Author Name & Publisher: Martin Pousson (Rare Bird Lit)
Publication Date & Length: May 10th, 2016 – 208 Pages
Meet a wild-hearted boy from the bayou land of Louisiana. Misfit, outcast, loner. Call him anything but a victim. Sissy, fairy, Jenny Woman. Son of a mixed-race Holy Ghost mother and a Cajun French phantom father. In a series of tender and tough stories, he encounters gender outlaws, drag queen renegades, and a rogues gallery of sex-starved priests, perverted teachers, and murderous bar owners. To escape his haunted history, the wild-hearted boy must shed his old skin and make a new self. As he does, his story rises from dark and murk, from moss and mud, to reach a new light and a new brand of fairy tale. Cajun legends, queer fantasies, and universal myths converge into a powerful work of counter-realism. Black Sheep Boy is a song of passion and a novel of defiance.
This is a highly literary work, rather than the more common gay romance. It’s a dense and somewhat difficult read, on the level of a college literature course. Readers need to bring their thinking game for this one.
After finishing it, I’m still not sure how I feel. It’s extraordinarily well-written, and I definitely enjoyed reading something minus the usual tropes and plot devices. However, I’m not sure I can say I liked it, exactly.
What I loved: the beautiful prose, the Louisiana setting, and a story that wasn’t a romance. I appreciated the almost tall tale quality to it all and the rich history and cultural flavor. Because it isn’t tied with direct reference to a particular era, it has a timeless quality to it.
What I wasn’t fond of: I didn’t have strong feelings of any kind toward the story’s first-person narrator. He was neither easy to like nor easy to dislike. He’s unreliable in the way most literary first-person narrators are, so it’s hard to tell how much of what he says can be taken as “fact.” I actively disliked nearly every other side character, even the ones I suspect I was supposed to like. There was simply no one to connect to, which made it harder to enjoy at an emotional level. At the end, I really wasn’t sure what the point of the story had been all along other than a somewhat voyeuristic look at this kid’s life.
This was a tough read, and I found I could only appreciate it in an intellectual rather than an emotional way. I prefer stories which deliver both. However, I recognize that it is indeed personal preference and not at all anything the story failed to do.
Ultimately, I’m giving this 4.5 stars only because it wasn’t to my taste. It’s otherwise a phenomenally well-written book which I believe readers who enjoy literary fiction will appreciate.
Martin Pousson was born and raised in the bayou land of Louisiana. His short stories won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and have appeared in The Antioch Review, Epoch, Five Points, TriQuarterly, StoryQuarterly, and elsewhere. He also was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. He now lives in Los Angeles.