Queer Books with Julie: ‘At Danceteria and other stories’ review
The 1980s come dazzlingly to life in Philip Dean Walker’s assured debut short story collection, At Danceteria and other stories. The glamour, daring and edginess of this iconic time in history collide with its seedy underbelly – drugs, vanity, other excesses alongside the nagging specter of “the gay man’s disease.”
For those of us alive in the 80s – I was in high school making out to the music of David Bowie and discovering the brilliance and power of Truman Capote – Walker holds a mirror to a magical and tumultuous time and our nostalgia is reflected back. Bowie and Capote both make appearances in the story collection – a move that immediately endeared me to Walker’s storytelling magic spell.
Walker illuminates the AIDS epidemic and sets it in a time of great possibility as he brings to life celebrities and historical figures in strange places – drag bars, the White House, sex clubs. Princess Di, Bowie, Capote, Madonna and others are featured at the center of a time that pits glitz and glamour at odds with a disease cruelly and systematically stealing the best and brightest young lives.
Walker’s stories share a common theme of the longing for connection. In By Halston, the titular clothing designer keeps people at clothes-length. He dresses them, assesses their physical appeal, and, in his drug-induced self-reflection, always finds himself ever so slightly superior. He observes the dance of life around him with a practice nonchalance and seeming ambivalence. But ultimately what he really wants is to be needed.
In Don’t Stop Me Now, Princess Diana trades roles with a drag queen. As the queen plays Lady Di to near perfection and adulation, Diana, unrecognized and dressed as a man, realizes how much the world needs her.
Keith’s birthday celebration in At Danceteria turns into a quasi-wake as partygoers learn of the death of a friend. As Madonna – a personal friend of Keith’s – sings into the microphone, Keith reflects on the changing times and laments that “nothing stayed the same. Ever.”
This story collection is provocative, unsettling, and profoundly moving.
Walker (image below) received his B.A. in American Literature from Middlebury College and his M.F.A. in Fiction from American University. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals. His second collection of stories, Caravan, will be released in late 2017 by Lethe Press.
Walker is unapologetically queer in a time when many queer authors long for anonymity in the mainstream. His stories dare to speak a queer person’s truth “loud and proud” and the reader is richly rewarded as a result. But the stories’ strength is their humanity. You don’t have to be queer to find a piece of your own story in Walker’s words.
Pick up your copy of At Danceteria and other stories here.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” (Neil Gaiman)December 12, 2014
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