by Ronald Palmer
Reviewed by Eric Sneathen
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the legacies of AIDS activism is the power and possibility of queer anger. ACT UP, along with several other organizations, demonstrated (and has left a substantial record of) the efficacy of rage and confrontation, what it can mean to be united in anger. Ronald Palmer’s Prick Queasy provides a timely reminder of the uses and erotics of such anger, at a moment when confrontational politics continue to rattle social foundations.
A Lambda Literary Award finalist, Palmer’s novel imbricates the murder of poet Hart Crane with the novel’s homicidal protagonist, Russ Wade.Ruggedly handsome with hands made for gripping basketballs and flesh in equal measure, Wade embodies Sylvia Plath’s lines, “Every woman adores a Fascist, / the boot in the face, the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you,” if gay porn star Spencer Reed were the brute in question.
Hart Crane uses his acolyte Russ Wade to murder closet-cases and toe-tapping-conservative types in vengeance for his own wrongful death at the hands of a sailor, a lad who extinguished his desire and left his mouth to go back to family, country, and duty. And this tension is given heat through Palmer’s inspired prose, which recuperates the sexy ambivalence of Crane’s. Take for example this monologue from the spirit of writer and companion Waldo Frank, who joins Crane at the bottom of the sea:
I remember your favorite line: I’ve wanted to kill myself with sex. You’d love the bug hunters of this new century begging to be seeded by an HIV positive man. Remember your unpublished poem, “Love Is a Virus?” Well, like most prescient phrases, it’s come true. For me and for you.
This is Waldo you’re talking to. Ghost to ghost, both of us haunting, both of us wandering the wreckage. Peculiar how ghosts are unwilling to haunt each other.
Trapped by the weight of the sea—in Palmer’s opening, I can hear the latch of history clicking into place, out of place—these ghosts are piss drunk with desire. Prick Queasy concentrates on the relationship between the past and the present, giving the underbelly its due, an ethics of haunting that refuses to be nostalgic, refuses to give up on anger and rage as means of queer sociality and politics. Palmer’s novel urges and titillates, a finger around the rim of the questions: How do queers resuscitate anger? How do queers collect again under the sign of rage? Palmer edges our ambivalence as Wade steps forward as a new Coriolanus, frotting the rage left to years gone by.
Eric Sneathen lives in Santa Cruz, California, where he is studying for his PhD in Literature. His reviews have been published by Small Press Distribution and Tripwire, and his poetry has been published by Mondo Bummer, The Equalizer, and Faggot Journal.