Christ Like by Emanuel Xavier
Mikey is a spirited but self-destructive survivor of sexual abuse, a gay Latino native New Yorker caught somewhere between Catholic guilt and club kid decadence looking to fit in as part of a family. Instead, Mikey delves into a demimonde of petty thieves, prostitutes, and pushers. Haunted by a father that Mikey has never met, a difficult childhood, recurring nightmares, the reality of death, and Christ, the story unfolds through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s following him on his journey through a fascinating world filled with Santeros, transsexuals and voguing queens.
An honest and genuine accounting of a first generation Puerto Rican boy whose childhood of abuse, incest, and terror have left him emotionally stunted and enraged. Although a fictional tale, the main character of Mickey X and the events of his life are based upon the author’s life and experiences. Unfortunately his experiences of abuse, prostitution, drug addiction, drug dealing, and violence are not uncommon yet highlight the era of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in New York City. Reading more like a spoken diary than an elegantly penned novel, this story nonetheless has an impact and intensity that makes the reading and telling worthwhile. The author’s experiences, knowledge, and hard won wisdom have something to say and although the audience listening may be small and perhaps many have similar experiences, the story strikes a chord.
The story details Mickey X’s life as the diary like memories bounce from present time to various past experiences from his birth to growing up to decades of rape and violence and finally his life he leads. The reader experiences Mickey’s life as he grows a hardened shell around his too sensitive heart, looking for love as a hopeless romantic yet having no idea how to love himself let alone another person. His repeated attempts at monogamous relationships end in infidelity from his partner and cruel treatment from both men, leaving Mickey lonely, heartbroken, and angry. Mickey’s internal rage at his rape at the tender age of two followed by years of abuse from his mother create a coldness that is only empowered by his chosen lifestyle as a hustler, drug addict and eventual drug dealer. His fascination in the world around him allows him brief forays into the practice of voodoo and jobs at bookstores but his partying lifestyle inevitably bring him back into the endless cycle of violence, despair and cruelty that marks his life and personality. For all that Mickey longs for stability and a partner, he willingly and happily embroils himself in a destructive lifestyle of drugs, violence, and hatred. This dichotomy tears at Mickey, stuck in a cycle of his own making and unable or unwilling to break out.
Mickey has numerous dream sequences within the book where his Catholic upbringing and his voodoo practice combine, giving him glimpses into his deepest fears and problems he can’t stand to confront yet chase him even within his dreams. These sequences are often odd, nonsensical and rambling with an emphasis on the crucifixion and elaborate imagery that Mickey fears even if he doesn’t understand the meaning. His only acknowledged fears are dying and being alone, but even these are hidden within a wall of cold detachment, allowing his thug like behavior to comfort him. For all that Mickey is a sympathetic character and a product of societal expectations and his upbringing, he is also part of the problem in that era. The non-stop partying, drugs, dealing, hustling, and violence he willingly inflicts upon himself and others with an emptiness conscience and no regrets show a complex individual that required great strength to finally walk away from that life and the only home he knew, no matter how destructive.
Although the narration was choppy at points, the scenes jumping from a memory of one of Mickey’s boyfriends to his mother’s internal musings on her many regrets and then to Mickey’s current situation, the stream of conscious-like telling allowed the reader to follow the thought process easily, even if it was not always the most obvious and tutored writing structure. The writing was clearly amateurish in parts and lacked cohesive and efficient editing, however, surprisingly this didn’t take away from the impact of the story and the engaging voice of the author draws you in almost immediately. There are an almost overwhelming number of footnotes to the book, although some are helpful in guessing slang and terminology used by Latino and Gay community as well as the landscape of the New York nightlife as it appeared then. Several of the footnotes are unneeded however as I’d be surprised if any readers were stumped by the references to Barney and needed to understand what that meant. These are easy to pick and choose which to pay attention to though. Another slightly disconcerting part was the Spanish that was used freely so for those who are not familiar with the language, the context is usually lost but the meaning is almost always violent and argumentative.
The author offers the story as fictionally autobiographical in the introduction but this is clear within the setting and writing in the detail given to the scenes and characters. The emotional connection to Mickey is obvious as it is to the various secondary characters from Mickey’s estranged love of his mother to his deep connection to his friends, the same group that cheer him up from an attempted suicide by getting him a job selling drugs. Mickey’s struggle with his sexuality and his entire purpose in life is highlighted in various poignant moments and the scene between Mickey and Dominick near the end is especially moving. The ending itself was fitting, ending on a hopeful note and if not entirely believable, I found myself really wanting to believe Mickey’s choice. This story was absolutely nothing like what I was expecting and it is all the better for it. It may not be the best-written and most refined book, but the unique voice and authenticity to every small detail make this story truly shine.
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