“Exterminatrix”: I review Sarah Schulman’s “Rat Bohemia”

“Exterminatrix”: I review Sarah Schulman’s “Rat Bohemia” January 15, 2016

for AmCon:

I spent last weekend at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston, and I needed something to read on the plane. Something short, punchy, an in-flight entertainment that could keep my attention after an event that is equal parts spiritually uplifting and emotionally harrowing. I threw Sarah Schulman’s Rat Bohemia into my bag and grinned as I set my alarm for 1995. More fool me.

Rat Bohemia is in some ways the scathing nostalgia trip I was hoping for. It’s sometimes a satire of gay life in ’90s New York City: a world of gunfire and AIDS protest funerals. Hothead Paisan, Assotto Saint, Derek Jarman, Alison Bechdel when we were the only ones who watched out for her. Schulman has a terrific ear for that unmistakable ’90s argot, from the slang in her unsexy sex scenes to the politically-incorrect S&M. Her characters have spent the past decade and a half losing their families, their homes, their friends, their health, all their money if they had any, and most of their illusions. Their anguish makes them silly and unfair, catty and self-righteous—and often ferociously funny.

It was so refreshing to step back into that pre-moral world. We live in a moralistic age. That ’90s world of violent fantasy (and violent reality) seems like a fever dream. Schulman’s characters allow themselves to feel rage instead of just solidarity; they lust and they don’t try to justify it. Their damage glitters across their hardened carapaces; they are gleaming deviants, not “virtually normal.”

more–with a sketch of the non-parallel terrors and shames of gay and straight sexuality

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