Read Remark book review - The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Book Review: The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties is itself impossibly beautiful.

It’s the kind of thing you appreciate in the way that you can see someone who’s kind and damaged and flawed and sassy and controversial and bravely honest and sometimes self-destructive and filled with love and glitter, and you absolutely adore them for all of those things, never despite them.

Angel is a 17-year-old boy, yearning to be a lady. When she puts on her slinky dress and joins the early 1980s club scene with like-minded people, she finds truth and freedom where before she had only experienced a vague yearning.

Through the decade, she finds friendship, love, and loss, eventually taking in other displaced transgender and homosexual young men as her de-facto children. Together, they create a family.

Where others may see them as society’s rejects, they see the light and beauty in one another. This house of beauties can be loud and audacious and silly and fabulous without fear.

Included in the family are young teen runaways, people trying to get over the rejection from their blood families, and a close friend who seems the spitting image of Dorian Corey in her audaciousness and chin-scratching legacy. Together, they find protection and camaraderie and home. Apart, they’re often homeless hate-crime targets.

Houses were not uncommon in that era. One of the more respected members would act as the “mother” of the house, ruling the roost, and the rest were her “children.”

“A house is a family for those who don’t have a family.”
– Pepper LaBeija,
Livingston, Jennie, et al. Paris Is Burning. Prestige, 1990.

In fact, many of the characters of The House of Impossible Beauties are reminiscent of actual drag queen stars of the 80s. Angie Xtravaganza. Venus Xtravaganza. Crystal LaBeija. Pepper LaBeija.

It’s a veritable Paris is Burning.

Their real-life histories are just as (and sometimes even more) colorful as those within these pages. The club scene in New York and Harlem in the 1980s and early 90s was a transformative period, with the emergence of drag queens and club kids.

“‘New York was a magical queendom,’ Ms. (Linda) Simpson would say… ‘We were pop culture darlings, even though pop culture didn’t quite get us.'”
Musto, Michael. “The Accidental Historian of Drag Queens.” The New York Times, 5 Aug. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/fashion/linda-simpson-the-accidental-historian-of-drag-queens.html.

Of course, it wasn’t all hugs and kisses. The community had its share of infighting and drug use. Even with the acceptance of their houses, the LGBTQ community was still subject to vicious and deadly violence. And then there was AIDS, the ultimate reaper.

Cassara’s vision is full of glitter and dirt and love. We see the whole act; the magician stuffing the handkerchief into her sleeve, then pulling it out with aplomb.


The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara
Published February 2018
Ecco