If writing...is a form of drag for Chee, it is also an act of mystic invocation and transference ... Chee leavens his heaviest topics...with charming episodes like his stint as a waiter at William and Pat Buckley’s Park Avenue maisonette, a job that prompted a crisis of conscience given Buckley’s infamous proposal to brand AIDS patients on their wrists and buttocks ... Other essays have the kind of grandiose titles you’d expect from a more traditional book on craft ... Yet even at his most mystical, Chee is generous; these pieces are personal, never pedagogical. They bespeak an unguarded sincerity and curiosity. Chee is refreshingly open about his sometimes liberating, sometimes claustrophobic sense of exceptionality ... Throughout, Chee endeavors to catch himself at a distance and reckon, ever humble and bracingly honest, with the slippery terrain of memory, identity and love ... Chee has written a moving and personal tribute to impermanence, a wise and transgressive meditation on a life lived both because of and in spite of America, a place where, he writes, 'you are allowed to speak the truth as long as nothing changes.'
How good is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel? It’s so good that I could fill my word count just with quotations ... Edinburgh was a masterpiece; so too is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. One of its beauties is how simultaneously shaped and flexible it is, both thematically coherent and varied in subject matter ... Chee’s particular style of mind and habits of moral engagement hold the collection together; every essay, no matter the subject, exhibits warmth, rigor, tact ... The mask conceals and it reveals; writing transfigures and it uncovers. That’s the gift that writing has given Chee, and it’s the gift that his wonderful new collection gives its readers.
As Chee’s gaze turns inwards, he beckons readers to experience his private moments with such clarity and honesty that we’re immediately brought into his consciousness. At the same time, he asks us to contemplate the largest questions about identity, sexuality, family, art and war ... Though some of these beautiful pieces have been published before, collected together, they build to reveal the journey of a writer ... By the end of this moving collection, we learn through Chee’s experiences that to be a writer is to continuously reconsider the self, to find what drives you even in moments of despair.