Daniel, the HIV+ gay slacker narrator of Craig Curtis’s 1991 novel Fabulous Hell has an entertaining/engaging voice. It does not have the bite of the late David Feinberg’s. Although filled with deprecations of himself and everyone else who crosses his path, there is a sweetness like that of David Leddick’s My Worst Date or the novels of James Earl Hardy.
The novel is composed of three-page vignettes. (Some are a bit longer or a bit shorter.) Early on, flashbacks of the painful past alternate with accounts of the absurd present. Sexual abuse by a stepfather mixed with expressions of contempt for the stepson’s unmasculinity and a mother too otherwise engaged even to be “in denial” of her husband’s abuse are the main features of the flashbacks. The lack of anger toward his mother does not ring true. Daniel’s affectless memory of the stepfather seems more plausible.
The accounts of various dead-end jobs, self-important supervisors, and wacky co-workers (and the friends with whom he goes to bar and does drugs) seem totally plausible. They are as funny as those of David Sedaris without being as extreme. Instead of playing one of Santa’s elves for weeks, like Sedaris, Daniel is Easter Bunny for a day and after feeling it is deeply humiliating, ends up having a fairly good time in the silly costume.
The promise of fireworks from a side trip to Las Vegas is broken. The two men with whom he went to Las Vegas are among many who lurch in and quickly disappear from the book. There is a relatively sustained and fairly savage account of being a male wife in Seattle. Most of the book takes place in Los Angeles. At a dinner with one of the men with whom Daniel attempts a relationship and various people “in the Industry,” he is “quickly made aware of my inconsequential career. With my obvious lack of education, meager income, and inexpensive shoes, I am scarcely worth talking to. I’m a toy.” (29)
He is an often a recalcitrant toy, particularly in various service sector jobs. He realizes that “partying is the glue that holds me together. Drugs give me something to look forward to, something to live for. I merely breathe without them.” (61) He also drinks and smokes too much. Eventually, he decides to stop being a victim and finds a venue for his smart-ass attitude (writing).
The book was entertaining. Its focus on how having to make money interferes with a fast-lane lifestyle is a welcome change from much gay fiction in which men party and trick seemingly full-time despite any visible means of support. As amused as I was by reading the book, as with My Worst Date it seemed to me difficult to believe that someone born in the early 1960s would make many of the Old Hollywood references Daniel does. Marion Davies? Franchot Tone? Lucille LeSeuer? And especially Thelma Todd!