I first came across Raymond Luczak’s work in conjunction with this website, when I reviewed Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life, a marvelous yet criminally short book. At the time, I remember thinking – and writing – that I hoped Luczak would turn his hand to a longer work. Well, this is it and it’s even better than I could have asked for.
It’s the story of Michael, a young deaf man from a small town who turns from his biological family and finds his Family at a college for the deaf in New York City. There’s the elder Eddie, an accountant desperately looking for love, Lee, a femme dishwasher with a thing for redheads, Vince the dancer, Neil the woodcarver and other brilliantly drawn characters.
Men With Their Hands, the winner of the 2006 Project: Queerlit contest, purports to be fiction, and it very well may be. Its verisimilitude, however; its truthfulness and honesty, sounds more like autobiography. But in the final analysis, who cares? When you get right down to it, our fiction is filtered through our lives and our experiences and is more autobiographical than maybe we’d even like to admit.
There is no tight plotting or clearly defined arcs in Men With Their Hands. It’s not that kind of book. It’s genuine, believable characters living out their lives and giving us a glimpse into a segment of the gay world where wonderful, loving people are marginalized because of their differences. Shouldn’t we, of all people, know better?
Luczak’s style has a grace, clarity and knowingness all its own. It’s honest and true, and it hits home. Consider this passage about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic:
It is not my job to feel. I sit in front of the stage, some six
feet away from the doctors speaking before a group of some
hundred men wanting to hear more about this new epidemic,
and translate their well-modulated voices into ASL for the six
deaf men sitting in the front row … When I interpret, I feel
the weight of their spoken words settle on my shoulders while
I transfer as much as I can of their sentences, their inflections,
and their meanings intact from my hands to their eyes. I absorb
everyone’s attention, and the weight of their precarious
understanding also falls on my shoulders. I am an Atlas straining
under two worlds when I interpret.
That, my friends, is a lesson in the eloquence of simplicity.
Luczak’s work speaks for itself, and anyone who’s interested in getting a glimpse into another world and a different, yet similar culture will find Men With Their Hands to be a fascinating, engaging read.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler