The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
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.