Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Longlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Washington Post, Time, BookPage, The New York Public Library, Powell’s
A Must-Read: Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, Boston Herald, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, The Bay Area Reporter, Datebook, Electric Literature, The Stacks, Them, Publishers Weekly
“Sweeping, ingenious . . . A kiss to build a dream on.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
From the bestselling author of We the Animals, Blackouts mines lost histories—personal and collective.
Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly but who has haunted the edges of his life: Juan Gay. Playful raconteur, child lost and found and lost, guardian of the institutionalized, Juan has a project to pass along, one built around a true artifact of a book—Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns—and its devastating history. This book contains accounts collected in the early twentieth century from queer subjects by a queer researcher, Jan Gay, whose groundbreaking work was then co-opted by a committee, her name buried. The voices of these subjects have been filtered, muted, but it is possible to hear them from within and beyond the text, which, in Juan’s tattered volumes, has been redacted with black marker on nearly every page. As Juan waits for his end, he and the narrator recount for each other moments of joy and oblivion; they resurrect loves, lives, mothers, fathers, minor heroes. In telling their own stories and the story of the book, they resist the ravages of memory and time. The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?
A book about storytelling—its legacies, dangers, delights, and potential for change—and a bold exploration of form, art, and love, Justin Torres’s Blackouts uses fiction to see through the inventions of history and narrative. A marvel of creative imagination, it draws on testimony, photographs, illustrations, and a range of influences as it insists that we look long and steadily at what we have inherited and what we have made—a world full of ghostly shadows and flashing moments of truth. A reclamation of ransacked history, a celebration of defiance, and a transformative encounter, Blackouts mines the stories that have been kept from us and brings them into the light.
Torres's ambitious sophomore outing (following We the Animals) intersperses a fictional biography of early 20th-century sex researcher Jan Gay with an enticing if murky present-day narrative. The unnamed 20-something narrator visits a dying man named Juan, whom he first met at 17, when they were patients at a psychiatric hospital. Now, after having accidentally flooded his apartment, the narrator moves into Juan's rundown building (inhabited, in Juan's words, by a "badling of queer ducks") and promises to carry out Juan's unfinished project involving a research study published in 1941—Sex Variants: A Study in Homosexual Patterns by George W. Henry—that draws on Gay's research. Juan's copy of the book is heavily redacted, leaving "little poems of illumination... a counternarrative to whatever might have been Dr. Henry's agenda," to de-pathologize Henry's case studies and restore the egalitarian spirit of Gay's groundwork. Juan and the narrator's dialogues can feel contrived, but just as the Sex Variants erasure poems sparkle with possibility, so too does Torres make fruitful use of references to literature and art, including a Carl Van Vechten photo of a famous gay male ballet dancer and a children's book by Gay's partner Zhenya, the latter of which proves to contain deliciously queer subtext. At its best, this captures the spirit of Torres's pangs of inspiration.
Big Time Overrated
Presumptuous and hollow. Yes, Imaginative, but to the point of confusing. It astonishes me that “Blackouts” won an award for best fiction.