The House of Impossible Beauties

Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties
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The House of Impossible Beauties

Joseph Cassara

Inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza in the seminal documentary ‘Paris is Burning’, and set in New York City from the late 70s-early 90s against the backdrop of the impending AIDS crisis, The House of Impossible Beauties follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ball scene and the Christopher Street Piers as they flee their traumatic pasts and band together to form the city’s first all-Latino House.

Told in a voice that brims with wit, rage, tenderness and fierce yearning, The House of Impossible Beauties is a tragic story of love, family and the resilience of the human spirit.

Review

The House of Impossible Beauties charts the glitter and heartbreak of the tumultuous 1980s in New York. Inspired by the iconic documentary Paris is Burning and the real House of Xtravaganza, Joseph Cassara brings a narrative truth to this iconic decade in drag, gay and transgender history.

Sprawling from the late 70s to the early 90s, this novel follows Angel as she enters the drag world for the first time and her establishment of the House of Xtravangaza. As the matriarch of this house, Angel, and her partner Hector, recruit Venus, Juanito and Daniel. Each member enters the house with vivacious energy and determination to change their own destiny. These characters, and their relationships to one another, are masterfully crafted – I wanted to celebrate their triumphs and protect them when they fell. Their ambitions and resilience, along with their hopes for acceptance and love, spur this captivating narrative.

Alongside this phenomenal cast of characters, the narrative’s strength is the masterful imagery of the glitzy ballroom scene and its juxtaposition with the dark undertones of New York during this decade. Venus’ emerald green Cha Cha heels, Angel’s hopes for a Chanel suit and Juanito’s first win at a ball are contrasted with the dangers and bigotry they had to continually fight against including homophobia, racism, drug addiction and the impending HIV/AIDs crisis.

This book left a deep impression on me. It perfectly encapsulates the drag scene in 80s New York. While it showed the beauty, glamour and hope of this era, it didn’t shy away from the dark undertones that litter this period of history. Its message for love, understanding and the need to continue fighting against bigotry is important, and urges us to fight for a more understanding and inclusive world.


Rose Maurice works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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