The best books about poisonous relationships (queer, with a dollop of angst)

Ryszard I. Merey Author Of A + E 4Ever
By Ryszard I. Merey

Who am I?

Growing up in a mostly pre-Internet time, I was hungry for androgynous and queer characters and didn’t know why. Books offered an escape hatch into the heads of the people I wanted to be. As I got older, writing was how I processed this disconnect, but for a long time, my lack of clarity negatively affected many of my relationships. It was through words (mine and others’) that I learned who I am. Amongst other things, a fragile and flawed and wildly imperfect person. It’s been great to see all the wholesome, positive LGBT rep that’s come out in literature over the last years, but my heart and stories will always belong to the bad-angel queers struggling to get a foot into Heaven. 

I wrote...

A + E 4Ever

By Ryszard I. Merey,

Book cover of A + E 4Ever

What is my book about?

A Stonewall Honor Book and ALA Rainbow book, A + E 4Ever is a big, inky splash following two genderqueer teens trying to survive a year in high school. Ash is an androgynous new kid with a fear of being touched. Eu is a tough lad with no problems throwing a punch. Eu thought she wanted girls, but one look at Ash and cue the heartache and hijinks! Like their friendship, the art and writing are messy and hard to define—the dynamics explored can be uncomfortable, but a reader willing to come out of their comfort zone (visually and narratively) will be satisfied by the raw chords struck.

The books I picked & why

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By Alvin Orloff,

Book cover of Gutterboys

Why this book?

Oh man, this book! It’s everything I want: Sweet, simple, cute, nostalgic, at times, just awful. Gutterboys taught me that a book with a soul and a soundtrack and a firm jab in the gut is the type of book I want to make. Set in the 80s, Jeremy is a naïve suburban Jewish teen who falls crazy-stupid in love with a gorgeous older hustler. Colin won’t date Jeremy, but he does take him on a New York adventure that will only unhinge innocent Jeremy more and more. If you like that intoxicatingly toxic unrequited gay love, give it a go!

Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes

By Jonathan Shaw,

Book cover of Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes

Why this book?

I picked up Narcisa in Portland’s legendary Powell’s bookstore over ten years ago on a whim and it ended up worming its way into my top ten books of all time. The prose is chaotic, evocative, drippy, disgusting, engaging, fantastic. Narcisa is a predatory, magnetic mess of nature and like the narrator, you’ve got to keep flying with her until she throws you down. I was floored and inspired by Shaw’s ability to tame such a blizzard of turmoil between two thin paper covers.

City of Night

By John Rechy,

Book cover of City of Night

Why this book?

The search for the self is an act of self-indulgence and that search and that act is on full display in this 60s gay classic. I adore Rechy’s prose, it’s just so different and beautiful, and although this is an old story, much of its loveliness and loneliness and promiscuity has never changed. I read City of Night and reread it for the tender, cracked characters who keep looking so patiently into every dark corner. 

Detransition, Baby

By Torrey Peters,

Book cover of Detransition, Baby

Why this book?

You won’t get the Good Tran Narrative here—Torrey Peters’ bestseller teases out a gloriously complex and problematic relationship between a fatalistic trans woman, her detransitioned ex-girlfriend, and the woman he just got pregnant. Full of drama, wisdom, taboo, and truth, I adore Detransition, Baby for its spotlight on unadulterated queer and/or trans characters full of gallows humor and heart.

Giovanni's Room

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of Giovanni's Room

Why this book?

Okay, this is an old book, but I have never, ever gotten over it. A classic remembered for the openly gay relationship, provocative at the time of publication, I remember this book and cycle back to it regularly for Baldwin’s masterful writing and his honest depiction of what living with the constant knowledge of mortality does to you: It makes you mean. It makes you ugly. And a book like this is a gift to take the edge of that fear away. 

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