Joseph Cassara, an American writer much too young to know first-hand the scene he resurrects, pitches his debut novel as a period piece that rescues a lost world from condescension, contempt or outright oblivion ... For all his immersion in the ball scene of the 1980s, Cassara never overdoes the period costumery of sequins, glitter and gold lamé.
The House of Impossible Beauties is a work of unrestrained passion, a novel both unabashedly queer — flamboyant and proud, built out of chosen families, pulsating with club vibes whilst clouded in the haze of trauma — and unmistakably Latin ... Stylistically, the novel is a glorious mess: It swerves with melodramatic prose, and finds easy opportunities for exposition in its straight-talking queens. To be sure, the book is hardly perfect, at times galumphing in its story movements. But those rough edges might just be the key to The House of Impossible Beauties.’ enthralling, invigorating success.
Cassara's style of storytelling is somewhat choppy in how it portrays scenes from a particular time period, often introducing readers to new characters and then tunnelling back to give his characters' backstories ... Nevertheless, it's an enthralling experience following these queens' powerful stories and I love how Cassara has dynamically brought them to life.
Finally, the narrative is infused with a longing for belonging important to many in the gay community and indeed to everyone. Through the magic of his storytelling, Cassara shows us some impossible beauties and brings us all home.
Yet what brings these dynamic and memorable people together is love, and the House of Xtravaganza, a home to those who don't have one, a place where all are treated like the royalty they are, and with love and loyalty --- major themes in this great breakout book by Joseph Cassara.
Cassara’s Hispanic trans-women and butch queens are sassy, charismatic and brave, and his exceptional debut novel is a humane microhistory of their uninhibited but precarious lives on the drag circuit of a bygone era.
The first half of Impossible Beauties is wicked fun ... Cassara deftly captures the tough-minded compassion of the performers ... Unfortunately, the tragic second half of Impossible Beauties feels like it’s punishing us for enjoying the first 200 pages. It’s true that many of the real-life characters whose stories Cassara imagines did meet with tragic ends, but those tragedies aren’t earned in a book that doesn’t help us understand why so many of these characters ended up overdosing or getting stabbed in the neck. Reading the book, it feels like the writer is much more interested in the madcap creation of the House of Impossible Beauties than its sordid collapse and, given how much fun it is to read about that creation, who can blame him?
What it lacks, besides the ball scene, which readers see little of, is the feeling that Cassara is adding something to the story. While readers who are too young to know this history may appreciate having access to a dramatic moment and some of the legendary figures who populated it, those for whom this is more familiar territory may find themselves wishing for more insight.
The novel feels like an anthropological plunge into another era, enhanced by rhythmic, urban prose littered with slang and Spanglish. Some observations are unsubtle and the metaphors are occasionally overcooked. But these are forgivable blips in a book with the compassion to capture the loneliness of a trans woman with AIDS who rides the subway at rush hour to feel the warmth of 'human bodies all against her,' and the sensuousness to convey the beauty of young gay lovers mimicking Fred and Ginger on a hot rooftop as the sun sets. The New York of 'The House of Impossible Beauties' may not warrant much nostalgia, but it is a moving place to visit.