Proud Pink Sky – Redfern Jon Barrett (Amble Press)

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Amble Press

So far, this has been a banner year for excellent books, and I’ll be hard pressed to narrow them down to a top dozen for my list in December. But that’s a few months away, so I’m just going to enjoy the bounty–including Proud Pink Sky, a gem from Redfern Jon Barrett and Amble Press that turns out to be a totally absorbing exploration of a gay metropolitan utopia.

In this version of late 1990s Berlin, the entire city is a gay community of twenty-four million people with its own boundaries, neighborhoods, government, and language–the latter an updated Polari, natch. Into this milieu come William and Gareth, a teenaged gay couple desperate to escape the south of England, and Cassie and Howard, a straight couple seeking job opportunities for Howard, who works in construction. As William and Gareth are not married, a requirement for full resident status, they settle in the transitional Q neighborhood. Cassie and Howard are relegated to the straight Hetcarsey. Although their lives do not intersect, each couple integrates itself into the city, blurring their boundaries as they find new friends and other pursuits.

Redfern has built a unique world here that mirrors our own in terms of conflict as trans and polyamorous rights move to the forefront of the LGBTQI+ struggle. The trans and non-standard gay or lesbian elements have been ghettoed into the Remould neighborhood, a shadowy enclave deemed “less than” the rest of the city. In particular, this is where Cassie strays as Howard immerses himself in a men’s Bible study group intent on bringing more traditional values to the city. Gareth gets a bartending job and becomes a regular part of the gay community, but William’s interests lie elsewhere.

An integral part of the world-building is the excerpts from “The Honest Guide to Gay Berlin” sandwiched between the chapters, covering the area’s history, customs, and, of course, language. As stated above, the language is the long-dead Polari, a pidgin British tongue copped from a variety of sources, some of which survives to this day: “camp” (effeminate), “bevvie” (drink), and “drag” (clothes). A glossary of Polari terms, some created especially for the novel, is at the end, and provides some interesting reading. Most of the words, however, you can understand from context.

Redfern shines most admirably, however, in the creation of their characters. Cassie is suitably adventurous while Howard is unexpectedly progressive–especially in the beginning. But his descent into a more hidebound point of view is among the most fascinating parts of the book. William begins as the driving force in their escape to Berlin, but he stagnates once they arrive. This leaves Gareth to provide the impetus for them to succeed as a couple, but it turns out he’s not quite up to the task, preferring to be out and about when William doesn’t care to.

Proud Pink Sky is an impressively readable piece of work that captivates you early on and drags you effortlessly into a utopia that isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be. You’ll enjoy the charcter, the story, and the setting. What more could you ask for?


© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler


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