The House of Impossible Beauties
by Joseph Cassara
“Cassaras’s propulsive and profound first novel, finding one’s home in the world—particularly in a subculture plagued by fear and intolerance from society—comes with tragedy as well as extraordinary personal freedom.” -- Esquire
A gritty and gorgeous debut that follows a cast of gay and transgender club kids navigating the Harlem ball scene of the 1980s and ’90s, inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza made famous by the seminal documentary "Paris Is Burning."
It’s 1980 in New York City, and nowhere is the city’s glamour and energy better reflected than in the burgeoning Harlem ball scene, where seventeen-year-old Angel first comes into her own. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must bear the responsibility of tending to their house alone.
As mother of the house, Angel recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life. The Xtravaganzas must learn to navigate sex work, addiction, and persistent abuse, leaning on each other as bulwarks against a world that resists them. All are ambitious, resilient, and determined to control their own fates, even as they hurtle toward devastating consequences.
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 dynamism of the human spirit.
Joseph Cassara was born and raised in New Jersey. He holds degrees from Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This is his first novel.
The Queer Book Club was founded who knows how many years ago by two Smith grads, new in town and hoping to meet women. Since then, we've met many smart queers of various genders, read heaps of books, laughed a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We read books by and/or about queers: classics, contemporary and genre fiction, graphic novels, non-fiction, memoirs, plays, and poetry. We convene the third Wednesday of the month at 7 PM. After our discussion of the book chosen for the month, we adjourn to a local watering hole for socializing. Join us, even if you didn't get around to reading the book--you never know who you might meet!