From the star of Peacock’s Queer as Folk and the Netflix series Special comes a darkly witty and touching novel following a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy as he fights addiction and searches for acceptance in an overwhelmingly ableist world.
Elliott appears to be living the dream as a successful TV writer with a doting boyfriend. But behind his Instagram filter of a life, he’s grappling with an intensifying alcohol addiction, he can’t seem to stop cheating on his boyfriend with various sex workers, and his cerebral palsy is making him feel like gay Shrek.
After falling down a rabbit hole of sex, drinking, and Hollywood backstabbing, Elliott decides to limp his way towards redemption. But facing your demons is easier said than done.
Candid, biting, and refreshingly real, Just by Looking at Him is an incisive commentary on gay life, a heart-centered, laugh-out-loud exploration of self, and a rare insight into life as a person with disabilities.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Ryan O’Connell, creator and star of the streaming comedy series Special, has written an emotionally honest and absolutely hilarious debut novel. Meet Elliott, a gay comedy writer with cerebral palsy who, despite having a successful career and relationship, craves alcohol and casual sex after a lifetime of feeling overlooked. Elliott’s no-filter attitude (like, from the very first sentence!) had us laughing out loud and sincerely wishing we could be best friends. O’Connell has no problem pointing and laughing at plenty of uncomfortable truths, like how having even the most loving partner can become boring eventually. But it’s his refreshingly frank depiction of everyday experiences with disability—such as well-meaning strangers constantly assuming he needs their help—that we appreciated most. Delightfully dark, funny, and heartfelt, Just by Looking at Him is a master class in pulling humor out of trying circumstances.
O'Connell navigates internalized homophobia and ableism in his hysterical debut novel (after the memoir I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves), a ripsnorter set in Los Angeles. Elliott, the protagonist, introduces readers to his "perfect" boyfriend, Gus, whom he increasingly resents. After almost six years together, the two are in a rut of ordering takeout, drinking natural wine, and having dissociative sex. Elliott is living with cerebral palsy, and despite having a flashy job writing for television, he can't help but think "modern life is hell." After an eyebrow-raising story from his boss involving hiring a sex worker, Elliott sets off on a trip of self-sabotage turned self-discovery, as he probes his relationships with sex and his body, alcohol, disability ("I work very hard to appear palatable, easy to digest, the crostini of disability"), and his father. (Some of this may sound familiar to fans of O'Connell's Netflix series, Special.) Here, O'Connell's revelatory and charming humor adds dimension to a character who is unapologetic about his spiraling behavior despite claiming to know better. O'Connell leaves nothing on the table, and the result reads like a zippy, traffic-dodging trip up the 101 on a blinding afternoon. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary.