The Boys in the Short Play

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Magruder_Wisc_comps_2.inddSugarless
By James Magruder
Terrace Books, University of Wisconsin.
268 Pages, $24.95

 

SUGARLESS, James Magruder’s juicy, fruity new novel, is a 70’s coming-of-age story that combines the heady flavor of adolescent hormones with original cast albums and high school speech competitions. The result is a tart rite of passage into gay adulthood that’s not at all saccharine but packs a surprisingly potent emotional punch.

Trapped in the western Chicago suburbs with his divorced, remarried mother and a blended family, Rick Lahrem describes himself as “cautious, featureless, a bus stop stand-alone holding his breath, beneath anyone’s notice.” His speech teacher, though, notices him when he makes two girls cry in class with his oral interpretation of a tear-jerking short story called “The Scarlet Ibis.” Recruited for the speech team in his sophomore year, Rick is assigned to compete in an event called D.I., or Dramatic Interpretation.

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