By Linda Leith
"This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love."
-- Vladimir Nabokov
Small but Important: Cason Sharpe’s Our Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories, reviewed by Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa
It’s a small book, only a half-centimetre wide. The colour is a soft cream with bold red font. There is a black and white drawing of a man in his twenties wearing a blonde wig neatly tied into a ponytail. A knapsack hangs from one of his shoulders. It’s a pretty little object, the product of the kind of care that Metatron Press puts into their publications. It’s also, and perhaps more importantly, a window into the micro-culture of queer teens and twenty-somethings who live, work, struggle, play, perform, and experiment in Montreal and Toronto.
Cason Sharpe’s Our Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories follows a series of narrators through the liminal period between adolescence and adulthood. Toronto and Montreal are heavily featured throughout, and depicted with a vividness akin to Vermeer’s paintings of Delft, though wholly more modern. Sharpe uses details that seem mundane, but when combined create a world into which the reader easily sashays. In “The Coming Attractions,” the narrator goes to Scotiabank Cinema by Peel Metro Station in Montreal. Whether or not you have been to this particular theatre, you will be instantly absorbed by Sharpe’s descriptions of the escalators that are too steep, the bored ushers, the loud lights, and the Montreal snow/slush that refuses to stay outside. While the narrator deals with issues that are hyper-specific to his personal experience, the world in which he moves is instantly recognizable. Any reader could step into it and follow the narrator through his insecurities, anxiety, and panic. The result of which is that Sharpe’s voice is heard, his emotions are felt, and his perspective is seen.
Throughout the entire book, Sharpe gives us scenes that challenge the reader. His characters date drastically older men, engage in sex work, give blowjobs in movie theatres, con unsuspecting people over the phone, get high, and shoot amateur porn. But these seemingly dangerous behaviours are presented with a gentle touch. Life moves on for the characters. There is danger, sure, but it isn’t expressly treated as such. It’s just something that happens. In the final story, “Our Lady of Perpetual Realness,” the reader is gripped by a moment in which the danger is, for the first time, death. In the midst of a party that begins with a drag BBQ and continues at Sky Bar in Montreal’s Gay Village, the narrator abruptly stops his story to explain why he’s chosen to take off his drag. He says, "This is only a week after the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people died. This is after years of violent attacks against trans women and black men. It’s why we’re all so tired, at least in part. It creates an extra layer of fatigue: Where do we go to dance fucked up all night long and not die? Where do we go to get laid and not die?" (64-65).
It's the emotional crux of the book. It’s the “realness” the title alluded to. It’s the reason the party must go on. It’s resistance. It’s choosing life over death.
This is Cason Sharpe’s first collection. Two stories were published in other sources, and he has written other pieces for GUTS, LESTE, and Matrix to name a few. His work is smart, poetic, detailed, funny, and it demands emotional rigour from its readers. It’s an example of why we need small presses. Publishing houses like Metatron, which provide a variety of voices, combat the idea of there being any one single narrative. They highlight writers like Sharpe, who is so talented and has so many beautiful, nuanced, and real things to say. Our Lady of Perpetual Realness is a small book, but it’s an important one.
Our Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories [IBSN: 978-1-988355-09-2] is published by Metatron Press, and can be purchased for $15.00 CAD.
© 2017, Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa
Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa is the general manager of Confabulation Montreal, an organization dedicated to the growth of the storytelling community in Canada. She is the founder of The Confab Story Lab and has produced live events for CBC Books All Told and Off-JFL. She has told stories for Tales from the Black, Yarn, Vanier College, Confabulation, and Phi Centre’s ongoing exhibit Lucid Realities.