, by Robert Leleux, tells the story of what happens to Leleux and his larger-than-life, overbearing mother after his father walks out on them, leaving them in Petunia, Texas with a lot less money than they’re accustomed to.
Robert thinks Mother should get a job, but, as she says, “Going to work just ruins the whole day.” What she needs is a rich man, and her quest, along with Robert’s quest to find himself, is the meat of the story.
It’s fun reading about Robert and his mother’s weekly trips into Houston to get their hair done at Neiman’s in the Galleria, their navigating the freeway system with A/C at full blast, his acting at a North Houston playhouse, and the strangely idyllic time he spent living in an apartment in Huntsville, of all places. Local readers will nod their heads -- wince, perhaps -- reading about Mother’s plastic surgeon, who, after listening to her money woes, says, “Don’t worry, Jessica…The year 2000’s not far off. It won’t be long now ‘til the rapture comes.”
But there’s more reason than the local angle to pick up this book – Leleux is possessed of remarkable wit and timing; in fact, he deserves comparison to David Sedaris.
“My time in the Petunia public school system taught me the lesson every gay boy learns fast: that language is the weapon of the powerless,” he writes. And when he isn’t quick with a comeback, Mother is there for him. Calling him on the school’s office telephone, she tells him, “I’ve got it…If that Barbie says anything to you today, you just say this. Say: Barbie, your vagina is looser than the top on an old mayonnaise jar. Don’t you just love that?”
One of the pleasures of the book is the hilarious, sometimes cruel conversations between mother and son. In one scene, Mother tracks Robert down at the movie theater. She’s angry at him for threatening to quit high school.
“Well, puke,” said Mother. “I’m getting off the phone now. I’m hanging up the phone, and I’m puking, and I’m buying a revolver, and I’m blowing my brains out, because I have an ungrateful child, and all you make me want to do is puke and die. Good-bye, Robert,” said Mother.
“Good-bye, Mother,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” I told her. “One small Coke and one small Diet Coke, please,” I said to Frank, handing the telephone over the counter.
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The relationship between mother and son is oddly touching. “…the reason Mother and I could talk to each other this way, so that the meanest thing we could say was still funny and affectionate, was because we shared that special bond mothers share with their gay sons – even when they’re only sixteen years old and don’t know they’re gay yet.”
Despite the crap Mother pulls in the story – convincing Robert she’s hemorrhaging blood from her vagina so he’ll drive her to Houston for plastic surgery, running off to California with a rich old cad she met on a plane – she’s a good mom. After all, she’s always known her son was gay and has done everything in her power to prepare him: “To Mother, Neiman Marcus was Gay School. Which was why she was willing to fight with Daddy every weekend when he wanted to take me with him to the Navasota Saturday Morning Live Cattle Auction.”
And when Robert falls in love and finally comes out to Mother, she responds: “How could you be my child and not be gay? Women like me always have gay children. Cher, Lana Turner, Queen Elizabeth.” Which makes him wonder, “How did you become the subject of this conversation?”
Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy is a wonderful book -- tender, funny and intelligent. And lucky for us, Leleux, who now lives in New York, is coming to Houston to read at Brazos Bookstore on January 15 (for Olivia Flores Alvarez’s preview, including more on the bleeding-vagina incident, click here). We hope there’s a Mother sighting! – Cathy Matusow