At Danceteria and Other Stories
by Philip Dean Walker
Squares and Rebels. 91 pages, $15.
PHILIP DEAN WALKER’S debut collection At Danceteria and Other Stories can be read in two ways. Each story can be appreciated individually as a reverent elegy to the gay party scene of the 80’s—its fashion, social structure, and noisy glamour—or they can be read together, perhaps in one sitting, and the book becomes a haunting descent from the intoxication of that era into the unfolding awareness of AIDS as the new normal.
Less linear than historical fiction in the main, this historical “re-fiction” is the product of extensive research and an expansive imagination. The first story in the collection, “By Halston,” starts with a singular historical moment: designer Halston, Studio 54 founder Steve Rubell, Liza Minnelli, and Andy Warhol are attending the opening of what became Halston’s eponymous JC Penney collection (later discontinued). We soon find ourselves at Studio 54 in a haze of pulsating music, mirrored walls, booze, and drugs, watching Truman Capote dance with a shirtless Italian man. However, the storytelling is far from unhinged. Walker’s thorough research and loyalty to detail enable him to recreate the singular moments, both real and imagined, that exemplify an era, told in a vivid language and dialog that is at once alarming and completely natural.
Emily Natasha Voorhees is a writer and Pilates instructor in Brooklyn.