Set in Swansea, Wales, The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights is an engaging and thought-provoking read. It’s a story about breaking free of restrictions — relationship conventions, geographical place, traditional gender identity.
The story has four POV characters: Caroline, Rutti, Richard, and Dom, although Rutti is the most powerful and colorful character, even if not the protagonist in the usual sense. From the beginning of the book Rutti animates the story with wit, insight and defiance. Zie uses gender-neutral pronouns as part of hir world view. There are twelve flashes into three points in the future, in which use of these pronouns (and the gender fluidity they represent) have become universal. It was immensely satisfying to see that at 80 Rutti is still triumphant, happy, and fully realized as hirself.
As the story begins, The Skyline — a shabby, mediocre nightcllub (although everything in Swansea is at least shabby if not squalid) burns to a shell. The nightclub doesn’t feature except for its burning — it’s a harbinger of change for the four heroes about to break free of the sullen boredom of life in Swansea, with its drinking, emotional violence, squalor, and merciless cold rain.
Caroline, Dom and Richard feel their way into a polyamorous relationship, and Rutti’s solo journey is catalyzed by a sweet, magical character with the stage name of High Hopes, though everyone just calls hir Hopes. And zie is exactly that for Rutti.
The present-time scenes are cleverly crafted to appear random, almost aimless, slow to take shape, but always true to charming chapter titles like The Pet Fundamentalist, Beware of Rooms with Plastic Plants, or Off-White Feminism and Low-Fat Fascism.
Frankly, I didn’t much enjoy the jumps into the future, but as the book unfolded I realized they were needed to give the story its shape and meaning, its sense of destiny. They are written in a cool third person POV (with the telling exception of Rutti’s), in contrast to the first person chapters in the rest of the book. It took some adjusting to stay with them.
Is The Giddy Death of Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights a manifesto for polyamory and gender fluidity, or a quirky, well-conceived, interesting and optimistic read? Yes. And after you read it I promise you’ll want to talk about it with your friends, which may be the greatest endorsement of any novel.
Reviewed by Lloyd Meeker