Falling in love for the first time or millionth time—or potentially final time—is never for the faint of heart. Love is messy, reckless, changeable. Love can be unkind, selfish, gut-wrenching, and yet it is capable of producing deep beauty and connection in both romantic ways and through everlasting friendship.
In my novel, How We Named the Stars, I felt compelled to craft a story that held space for both love and loss—these being two universal experiences all humans go through in some fashion or another. Even when love is not received or given, it exists out there in the ether in tension with our beings. And for those fortunate enough to fall in love there is always the worry of losing it.
Many writers, particularly queer writers, have written of love capturing its ability to break us open, transform and reshape how we move through the world. It is in that specific liminal state between love and loss that I am most interested. Returning to such liminality often to show how characters might grow from and out of it, reminding myself, how I, too, had to learn such lessons—this is the driving force of my writerly practice.
Here are some of the books that speak to a particular kind of love and loss that inspires me both as a reader and a storyteller.
Mendez’s debut is a novel that I am never not thinking about. It captures the longing and loneliness of a queer awakening to great effect. Jesse is a richly portrayed young man brought up through the church only to be forced to flee from his community in the midlands of England and left to navigate the dangerous anonymity of London at the turn of the millennium. Jesse and Owen’s evolution from flatmates to lovers is depicted with such care and a rare honesty afforded to queer men in literature. Mendez’s exploration of faith, sexuality, and Black masculinity is revolutionary and gorgeously achieved.
This memoir was a surreal reading experience. From one chapter to the next, there were countless moments in which I felt Hewitt was writing about my own life, my own relationship to the church, and to other men. All Down Darkness Wide overflows with reflective thoughts on love, loss, and desire. Intimately written, it is full of Hewitt’s pain and trauma but never loses sight of hope. I have returned to this memoir time and time again, always finding something new to be in awe of.
In my writing practice, I seem to return to the theme of mental health in both my poetry and prose, often reflecting on loss and death and its impact on anxiety. It’s something my protagonist Daniel experiences quite heavily in the latter half of my novel. Janice Galloway’s 1989 debut is an emotionally adroit portrayal of one woman’s search for the trick to keep pushing on in life despite all its painful realities. Galloway skillfully plays with style and form throughout to illustrate Joy’s trauma after the demise of a relationship. This novel is claustrophobic, full of suffering and distress, but never dishonest for its portrayal of an unraveling mind. While not a queer story, it is well worth engaging with this seminal classic.
I am such a fan of Pajtim Statovci since reading his novel, Bolla, having now consumed everything he has written that has been translated into English. Statovci fearlessly writes of desire and love for all their ugly, violent truths. Set during the Kosovan war, Bolla is a harrowing read which brilliantly moves between its two characters, Arsim and Miloš, leaving the reader to sort fact from fiction. I am always in awe of queer writers not afraid of taking on pain and cruelty and using each as a catalyst for profound and urgent storytelling.
I am a huge fan of Almada’s writing in translation. An Argentine powerhouse who writes of the malleable nature of relationships with an acute awareness of how easily love can turn violent. Brickmakers captures the trauma and pain of patriarchy passed from one generation of men to another. Pájaro and Marciano are caught up in a familial war that is not theirs but one that will have profound cyclical consequences for years to come. This portrayal of friendship, machismo and desire is unflinching and will leave you reeling long after.
I must confess, until meeting my husband nearly twelve years ago, I had never come across Edwin Morgan, who was not taught during my US education. A prolific poet, the first Scottish Makar (or Poet Laureate), and experimenter in form and language, Morgan’s body of work was such a joy to happen upon in my twenties. He came out publicly in his seventies and lived until the grand age of ninety. Morgan wrote of desire and love with such prowess, often coded because of censorship and anti-LGBT laws in the UK. “By The Fire” and “Strawberries” are two poems I could happily spend the rest of my life lost in. To write of love like Morgan did is a magical feat of human engineering.
This is the most beautifully written gay love story that you have likely not read. I happened upon this book while perusing the shelves of Chapter’s Bookstore in Dublin when living in Ireland many years ago. Set before and during the 1916 Easter Rising, it portrays the budding romance of two young men – Jim and Doyler – from literal opposite sides of town and completely different classes. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, this book is sensuous, expansive, and will rip your heartstrings out before having you in floods of tears by the end. Jim & Doyler forever!