11 April 2010

Books: I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Long before Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, and his other memoirs, became the “it” books to read and before James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces made the world realize that sometimes memoirs blurred the line between fact and fiction, I understood that some of the stuff that happened in these people lives were not possibly true. Especially Burroughs, as I remember getting about half-way through that book and saying to myself this stuff was too outrageous, that there was a lot fiction in those passages.

Now, thanks to Frey, memoirs come with a caveat, with the authors basically having to protect themselves with notes indicating “names of characters” and other “details” have been changed. That all the characters are “composites” of many people and that this is how the author remembers the way it was, which means some of it I made up to make the flow of the story follow a linear plot.

After reading Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s forthcoming June memoir The Bucolic Plague: From Drag Queen to Goat Farmer, about him and his partner Brent’s take over of a two-hundred year-old mansion in upper New York, I settled in to read his first memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days. This is the tale of his life before Brent, before becoming the Beekman Boys and a no-holds look at his days as an award-winning drag queen at night, and an award-winning advertising man by day. It is also a tale of his relationship with Jack, a high end hooker.

Like Burroughs, like Frey, Kilmer-Purcell’s life is one absurd escapade after another. His tales of being the 7-foot-tall drag queen named Aqua, always looking for the next fella to buy him a vodka, and sometimes waking up in places he doesn’t remember (or waking up on the train on a Sunday morning with a family obviously bound for Church, who stare at him with indiscreet fright and probably curiosity) are sometimes too outrageous to believe in (and I’ve never understood some peoples mind set that they don’t really feel alive unless they’re doing something that could bring them to the brink of death). Yet, we are sort of told from time to time, that this all did happen.

And through 3/4's of the book, you either laugh at the hokey adventures and lessons of Aqua, Josh and Jack, or cry with envy that you (the reader) could never dream of living a life of self-destruction -even though it came with money and a beautiful apartment.

It’s the last quarter or so of the book that becomes even more surreal. Love is messy, and at times, you never see the forest for the trees. While I know both Josh and Jack loved each other, the drugs that Jack took -especially his crack addiction - were bound to cause their eventual split-up. It is here, that Kilmer-Purcell’s life becomes interesting, insomuch as his denial that Jack’s drug use, his high end male escort life, was never going to interfere in their love for each other. It is here, that the fundamental truths of human emotions comes out, and with a lot of wit, sharp and unforgiving, I Am Not Myself These Days transcends the memoir genre to become more than exaggerated story of a drag queen and his hooker boyfriend.

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