I wasn’t going to read Sky Gilbert’s latest novel, Sad Old Faggot, until a friend said, “It’s awful,” and giggled. I wasn’t disappointed. From the in-your-face title to the endless jibes at celebrities and gay culture, it’s a very funny book. Inspired by a raft of semi-autobiographical fiction (see Sheila Heti), a very lightly fictionalized Gilbert rabbits on about his super-sad life as a 62-year-old gay man. Being a slut has always been part of his identity and now, well now he’s not so sure. And so we get a lot of stuff about his cock and his ass and his very sad sex life, and it might easily be seen as a case of way too much information, except that it’s funny and cutting and anyone who has been out for more than a few seconds will recognize some of the highlights. Dirty assholes and Daddy worshippers, it’s all here, and all delivered in a garrulous, chatty style that’s blessedly free of literary angst.
Things get a little weird in the final third of the book when he goes off on an almost Hollywood-style quest to find his true gay father, not least because the childhood reminiscences the search occasions are almost too charming. After chapters of very satisfying, true-to-life whining, it’s a bit jarring. And then in the very final pages, he gets all defensive about his relationship and how real it is and solid and important, despite the fact that he’s already established this in an earlier chapter and I think most readers would just take his word for it. As usual, Gilbert’s greatest weakness seems to be a beleaguered defensiveness that can cause you to shake your head in amazement. The guy co-founded one of the first gay theatres in Canada and has written 30-odd plays, so why is he so insecure? Still, he’s got verve and energy and he’s a winning guide to the vagaries of gay life. Who else is going to tell an “old ugly guy” how to get laid? (Hint: persistence.) Buy it for the cringe-making revelations, stay for the laughs.