Sunday, June 14, 2009

If your nipples could talk

The Secret Life of Peter Paddington, Brian Francis' debut novel, is precisely why I have no intentions of coming up with my own semi-autobiographical novel. My writing would never match the wit and humor of Francis's prose. I'm not even a big fan of gay, coming-of-age novels because I find them too formulaic (e.g., handsome, closeted overachiever coming to terms with his own sexuality). But this novel has restored my faith in gay fiction, however unlovable and repulsive the main character may be.

Yes, Peter Paddington isn't your typical 13-year-old protagonist. He's pushing 200 pounds, has pimply legs, has absolutely no talent at all, and has developed nipples the size of ripe cherries that could talk. He fantasizes about his handsome classmate and the mysterious Mr. Hanlan, one of the married guys he delivers the paper to. He doesn't have any guy friends at school and his best friend is Daniela, the foul-mouthed, Italian girl who lives across his house. When Peter finds out that Daniela has secretly started dating and plans to go all the way with him, Peter calls Daniela's parents and rats out on her. Daniela, unknown to her, has become Peter's fag hag.

One of the themes explored in The Secret Life of Peter Paddington is about the issues gay adolescents face during this difficult stage. Peter is obsessed about losing weight and the weird changes his body's going through. He detests his hairy legs and wishes that they were more tanned and hair-free like those of Andrew Sinclair, his secret crush at school. And when his nipples suddenly pop out and start talking to his brain, threatening to expose his dirty thoughts to the world, he covers them up with masking tape. In a way, this is Francis's tribute to every gay man's discovery that he's different from other boys, especially with how one's body responds to being around them.

This isn't a coming out novel. Peter never really comes clean about his sexuality. The closest incident to him being exposed was when his uncle sees him wearing his mother's clothes. His uncle, as hinted in the book, is also gay and never tells on him of course. Peter's parents remain clueless throughout the novel and for good reason -- he leads an uneventful life. And while he may find himself in difficult situations and awkward moments, these appear few and far between in the book. The book's humor lies in Peter's thoughts and the ridiculous scenarios he imagines. He fantasizes about being Brooke Shields, joining a beauty pageant, and having intimate encounters forced upon him. These are hysterical.

The Secret Life of Peter Paddington may be stuffed with stereotypes about growing up gay, but Francis doesn't dwell too much on them, often treating these as a given. Francis has also taken a risk using Peter as his novel's hero (Dan Savage, the popular columnist, even labelled Peter as "repulsive."). But this risk ultimately pays off. The novel is one of the most honest depictions of adolescence ever, and it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, for you surely would be able to relate with Peter's experiences.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your hero unperfect.
  2. You want to laugh your socks off.
  3. You're a chubby chaser.
Oh, by the way, Brian Francis is hot. Check out the adorable author below.


the geek said...

i like the book na kahit di ko pa nababasa....